The Trump administration unveiled new restrictions on travel to the United States from eight countries, including North Korea and Venezuela, after its ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries expired Sunday.
The new restrictions, to be phased in, apply to foreign nationals from countries the administration says have refused to share information on terrorism, among other issues, with the U.S. government. It also applies to nations that haven't taken necessary security precautions, administration officials said.
The expiring ban bars citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who lack a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States" from entering the U.S.
The new order drops Sudan from the list — administration officials said it was cooperating with both monitoring security and sharing information with the U.S. government — but adds three new countries: Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.
The order, which places slightly different restrictions on each country, was detailed in a conference call late Sunday with reporters. Senior administration officials from several agencies, including the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spoke on condition of anonymity.
“These restrictions are necessary and they are conditions-based, and not time-based," one senior official said. "The goal is not to indefinitely block people from coming to our country. The goal is to protect Americans until foreign governments comply with our standards and no longer pose a risk to our people.”
The official noted that Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke would be required to update President Trump on the ban every 180 days, and that "countries may come off the list as we review them.” But the official added that DHS may add others to the list as conditions dictate. "The bottom line is that we are no longer allowing information-sharing deficiencies overseas to threaten our security here at home.”
Senior officials said Venezuela, the troubled South American country, was added to the list because its government won't say whether its citizens pose a public safety threat. It also “fails to share public safety and terrorism-related information adequately.”
“It’s clear that we have a very uncooperative government,” one official said.
The new order bars visitors including some Venezuelan government officials and their families.
The officials said North Korea “does not cooperate with the U.S. government in any respect and failed to satisfy all information-sharing requirements.”
Asked why North Korea would be part of a travel ban, since it does not produce a large number of visitors to the U.S., a state department official admitted, “The number is very low.”
But a DHS official said: “Quite simply, this whole exercise is about information, sharing partner information with the United States and making sure we’re getting the data that we need to keep terrorists, criminals and other nefarious actors out of the country. North Korea, quite bluntly, does not cooperate whatsoever on the baseline requirement.”
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, President Trump cryptically replied in response to a question about the issue: “The travel ban: The tougher, the better.”
The expiring ban blocked entry into the United States for 90 days and locked out most aspiring refugees for 120 days to give the administration time to conduct a worldwide review of U.S. vetting procedures for foreign visitors. A few federal courts have blocked the ban, but the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to take effect in June with some restrictions.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Oct. 10 on whether the current ban discriminates against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution, as lower courts previously ruled.
Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law said the new order "does seem more specific and targeted. However, it remains unclear whether it can withstand legal challenge. It is also unclear what the order means for the (Supreme Court) appeal, but I expect the Justices will call for further briefing on what this means for the appeal and perhaps postpone argument, if necessary."
Administration officials on Sunday said the new policy is the result of both interagency collaboration and negotiations with several foreign governments.
One official said the administration will offer a separate announcement on refugees "this week."