WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that bans all immigrants and visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, and opens the door to more country-based bans in future.

The order — “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” — was released on Friday evening and immediately earned the ire of human rights activists and lawmakers who called it “cruel” and discriminatory.

The seven countries mentioned in the order are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen but its effects could extend well beyond barring newcomers from these countries. It overhauls US refugee policy and initiates a fundamental shift in how the United States allows people to enter the country.

Critics term order cruel and discriminatory

“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want them here,” said President Trump after signing the order at a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people. We will never forget the lessons of 9/11,” he said.

But Senator Ben Cardin, a ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rejected his narrative. “President Trump’s cruel executive order on refugees undermines our core values and traditions (and) threatens our national security,” he said.

“This policy is dangerous, short-sighted, and will harm our alliances and partnerships,” he said, pointing out that Mr Trump “demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of our strict vetting process, the most thorough in the world.”

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, co-chairperson of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said that President Trump’s decision-making process was “driven by his profound insecurity” rather than what’s best for hard-working Americans.

“This is not normal, and it goes well beyond the normal disagreements between political parties,” she added.

The order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely. It slashes the US refugee quota for this year to less than half of the level set by President Barack Obama, from 110,000 to 50,000. It directs immigration officials to prioritise “religious minorities” for the remaining 50,000 slots.

The order bars all refugees from countries that aren’t specifically approved by the US government and tasks the federal government with devising a new process to screen everyone hoping to immigrate to the US. This process will require each individual immigrant to prove she or he will be a “positively contributing member of society”.

The measure could also block 500,000 legal US residents, including green card holders, from returning to America from trips if they do not meet the new requirements.

“It’s extraordinarily cruel,” said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Obama. He told Pro-Publica, a non-profit news organisation, that the order’s travel ban applies to all “aliens”, a term that includes anyone who isn’t an American citizen.

The order, however, exempts from the ban those citizens of the seven barred countries who hold certain diplomatic visas.

The exemption does not apply to those who hold long-term temporary visas — such as students or employees — who have the right to live in the United States and travel abroad and back.

“If applied literally, this provision would bar even those visitors who had made temporary trips abroad, for example a student who went home on winter break and is now returning,” Mr Legomsky told Pro-Publica.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2017