- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

The U.S. did see a surge of people entering from the seven terrorism-connected countries in the days after a federal judge halted President Trump’s extreme vetting policy, according to government statistics that back up Mr. Trump’s claims of a “big increase in traffic.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said about 3,000 people from the seven countries arrived from Feb. 4 through Feb. 7 — the days immediately after the judge issued a temporary restraining order forcing Mr. Trump to admit visitors once again.

“For context that 3,000 compares to 1,200 over the same period in 2016,” CBP said in a statement.

The agency said it could not give a nation-specific breakdown of arrivals. Seven countries were affected by Mr. Trump’s vetting order: Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees from those countries has stabilized after surging in the first week after the judge’s order, as the State Department rushed to let in people it said had been held up by the order.

To date, some 45 percent of refugees under Mr. Trump have come from the seven targeted countries, which is similar to the rate during President Obama’s final 3 months in office.

Mr. Trump is expected to announce an updated executive order this week to try to reimpose his vetting plan while surmounting the objections raised by several federal courts that stopped his policy, ruling that it likely was illegal and unconstitutional.

The next round of briefs is due at the federal appeals court at the end of this week, but the Justice Department on Friday asked for a delay.

The White House says it plans to keep fighting for the current executive order in the courts, even as it prepares to release the new order. White House officials have said the policy will achieve much the same effect as the original order was designed to do.

Mr. Trump said his vetting policy was the evolution of his ban on Muslims, which he called for during the campaign. The current policy piggybacked on a bill approved by Congress and signed by Mr. Obama to impose stiffer screening on visitors from seven countries where the U.S. wasn’t confident of being able to check identities or backgrounds of would-be visitors.

Four of the seven countries were named by Congress, and the three others were added by the Obama administration.

Under Mr. Trump’s policy, the government was to pause admissions from those countries for 90 days. The policy also halted refugee admissions for 120 days. In both cases, the goal was to give the Homeland Security Department a chance to improve its vetting before restarting approvals.

But courts ruled that Mr. Trump was stripping rights away from immigrants, both legal and illegal, already in the U.S., as well as people who have visited previously and may want to return. They blocked almost all of the policy, which meant Homeland Security began to admit people again under the Obama policies.

“Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!” Mr. Trump said in a Feb. 8 Twitter post, apparently referring to an appeals court decision he was hoping in vain would restore his policy.

CBP’s numbers suggest that people from the seven targeted countries did in fact come in at a higher rate, surging 250 percent compared with the previous year.

“There have been approximately 3,000 individuals from the seven countries listed in the Executive Order on Travel who entered the United States between Feb. 4 and Feb. 7, 2017,” the agency said.

Mr. Trump’s opponents have urged him to forgo his extreme vetting plans and work on other options to try to keep terrorists out of the U.S. They criticized him for singling out the seven countries selected by Congress and the Obama administration.

“It send a very bad message to individuals that are being singled out because of their nationality. It also gives a clear impression that there is an effort on the part of this administration to focus on Muslims themselves,” John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser and later CIA director, said on the CBS “Face the Nation” program on Sunday.

Analysts have debated the threat level from the seven countries.

But terrorism-related cases continue to pile up of people from those countries.

On Friday a Virginia man who immigrated from Sudan was sentenced to 11 years in prison for attempting to provide support to the Islamic State and for lying about it to the FBI.

The man, Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, became a legal permanent resident of the U.S. in 2012.

With that status, he could have been banned from re-entering the U.S. from overseas under Mr. Trump’s original order. But the White House said legal permanent residents weren’t intended to be part of his vetting and issued a blanket waiver.

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