President Donald Trump’s contentious travel ban expires Sunday with little clarity over whether America’s door will reopen for travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.
After the 90-day ban ends, travelers from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen have been hopeful that US representatives would resume granting visas for trips to the United States for work, study, pleasure or to emigrate.
But according to some media reports early Friday, the ban could actually become open-ended and include several more countries, with restrictions tailored to each country’s level of vetting security.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed administration sources, said the updated policy, still not officially approved by Trump, will not have an expiration date but depend on each country’s ability to meet US security requirements.
But Omar Jadwat, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has argued against the ban in court, said politics, not national security, would likely decide the issue, at least until the Supreme Court can rule on it next month.
“The animating principle for the government throughout has been, the president wants a ban, the president wants to ban as many people as he can, as many Muslims as he can, and we’re going to do what we can to make that possible,” he told AFP.
“I think that’s how we got to where we are now.”
The ban — which initially included Iraq and was accompanied by a 120-day block on all refugees — sparked a political uproar when Trump first announced it on January 27, a week after becoming president.
It came after Trump repeatedly promised in last year’s election to block Muslims from the United States.
The ban was frozen by courts after a weekend of chaos at airports and a barrage of lawsuits by immigration advocates and civil liberties groups.
The administration’s stated reason was national security: the need to ensure the six countries have adequate vetting procedures for travelers, so as to prevent terrorists from entering the country.
But critics alleged that it amounted to Trump’s promised “Muslim ban” which courts agreed was unconstitutional because it discriminated against a single religion.
Several states also sued to block it on grounds that it prevented legitimate visa holders, family members, US residents, students in universities and foreign workers for US companies from entering the country.
After losing challenges in appeals courts, on March 6 the White House unveiled a revised ban, excluding Iraq and exempting people who already had visas. Nine days later that, too, was frozen, by a judge in Hawaii, for largely the same reasons as the original.
Again, the administration lost in two appeals courts, leaving Trump furious and turning to the Supreme Court.
Trump declares victory
On July 26 the high court ruled to partially lift the freeze on the ban, while agreeing to hear the White House’s appeal to lower court rulings in October.
Trump declared a political and legal victory and shut down visa issuance for the six countries.
“Great day for America’s future Security and Safety, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court. I will keep fighting for the American people, & WIN!,” he tweeted.
By that time, ironically, the original 90-day ban would have been expired for two months. Arrivals from the six countries had already fallen by more than half due to “extreme vetting” procedures that increased the difficulty of getting a US visa.
The White House has not hinted how it will handle the expiration on Sunday, and advocates for immigrants say they don’t know.
The Department of Homeland Security last week presented the White House a classified update on security issues for travelers from the six countries as well as others from 17 nations originally reported as deficient in traveler vetting.
The Wall Street Journal said the updated policy could be expanded to eight or nine countries, but with different travel limitations on each. The possible countries to be added were not named.