- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2017

Despite confusion at airports and a judicial spanking, the White House said Sunday that President Trump’s “extreme vetting” executive order remains in effect and is working as the administration had hoped, halting almost all travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries with histories of terrorism.

Blasting the media for “hyperventilating,” officials said fewer than 200 travelers were subjected to waits as they arrived in the U.S. and tried to clear passport control with valid visas. All of those who were detained have been approved and waved into the country, the administration said.

Still, the political damage was already done as Democrats and even some Republicans said Mr. Trump botched the rollout of the executive order he signed Friday and demanded tweaks.

The Homeland Security Department scrambled to calibrate its policy in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling in New York, which prohibited agents from deporting anyone who arrived on an approved visa. The judge’s ruling applied to people who were already in transit at the time of Friday’s executive order and managed to reach the U.S.

But Mr. Trump’s order remains entirely intact, and its bite will be felt in coming weeks as people from the seven targeted countries are blocked from leaving for the U.S.

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”

He bristled at those who labeled his order a “Muslim ban,” pointing to more than 40 majority-Muslim countries whose travelers aren’t affected. Mr. Trump also said he was following the lead of President Obama, who issued a six-month pause on refugees from Iraq in 2011.

Justifications aside, the policy spawned confusion at airports around the globe over the weekend as it caught officials by surprise.

“It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said in a joint statement.

The White House rejected those criticisms, saying it kept the details of the policy quiet so it didn’t tip off terrorists. Officials insisted that the policy was working as intended, with fewer than 200 people subjected to delays out of the 375,000 foreign visitors who reach the U.S. every day.

“It is our view that it has been implemented successfully and according to administration policy. It has also resulted in extremely minimal disruption,” a senior administration official said.

The White House said the temporary travel ban is based on a year-old law, passed by Congress and carried out by Mr. Obama, which identified seven countries whose citizens needed extra scrutiny when traveling to the U.S.: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Still, the president’s policy roped in some sympathetic cases in the first few hours of implementation, including Iraqis who had helped the U.S. with the war effort and who already had been approved for special visas to help spirit them away from homes where they were often targets for retaliation by American enemies.

One of those Iraqis joined a lawsuit Saturday morning along with another Iraqi man coming to the U.S. to join his wife and child, who were admitted several years ago as refugees.

Both men were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, though they were eventually given waivers under Mr. Trump’s executive order.

Judge Ann M. Donnelly, in a snap ruling Saturday, ordered that nobody who had been issued a valid visa be deported under Mr. Trump’s policy.

The Obama-appointed judge said it was likely that the executive order violated the due process and equal protection clauses — though she didn’t explain those findings in her brief order. Instead, she set a briefing schedule to give the matter a more thorough hearing.

As the ruling came down, thousands of lawyers volunteered over the weekend to greet arriving international flights and offer legal aid to anyone caught in the new policy.

Holding signs in English and Arabic, they scoured airports for families whose relatives had not emerged from customs and passport control, then offered legal assistance to try to pressure authorities to release the travelers.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats tried to force the issue as a roadblock to Mr. Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson needs to answer questions about the policy before an expected confirmation vote Monday night.

“These executive orders are un-American, mean-spirited, and will do nothing to keep us safe. Before being asked to vote yes or no on his nomination, senators deserve to know where he stands,” Mr. Schumer said.

Officials in some of the seven targeted countries said they may impose retaliatory bans on travel from the U.S., though administration officials brushed aside those threats.

A number of Democrats fired off letters to Homeland Security demanding to know what the department was doing to accommodate new arrivals. Some lawmakers said they would introduce legislation when Congress returns Monday to revoke the executive order.

Even Republican backers of Mr. Trump sounded worried.

“Adjustments are needed,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, pointing to the “confusion and uncertainty” he said ensued after Mr. Trump’s order.

“In the future, such policy changes should be better coordinated with the agencies implementing them and with Congress to ensure we get it right — and don’t undermine our nation’s credibility while trying to restore it,” Mr. McCaul said.

Still, he defended Mr. Trump’s right to protect the U.S. from terrorists and said past presidents have paused immigration from specific countries to prevent infiltration.

As criticism mounted, newly minted Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said he was issuing a blanket waiver declaring green card holders — those approved for legal permanent residence in the U.S. — to be admitted as part of the national interest.

As of Sunday night, the administration said every person snared by the new vetting had been approved and admitted to the U.S.

• Andrea Noble contributed to this report.

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