Donald Trump's new travel ban addresses several issues with its previous iteration, but not the main problem. It once again singles out a handful of countries whose citizens haven't committed terrorist attacks on US soil, making it difficult to defend on national security grounds.
The revised order suspends the issue of visas to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The Trump administration's reasoning is that these countries lack adequate vetting procedures, making them a risk to the US. Iraq has been removed from the list after critics pointed to Iraqis' support in fighting terrorism, and Iraqi interpreters for the US army were denied entry despite holding valid visas.
The indefinite ban on Syrian refugees has been rolled into a blanket suspension of America's refugee programme for 120 days. Moreover, the cap on refugees has been set at 50,000 for 2017; former President Obama hoped to resettle 110,000 people this year. The new order attempts to justify the ban by pointing to more than 300 counterterrorism investigations into refugees, but only provides two weak examples of terror attacks by refugees. One involved a pair of Iraqis - who are no longer subject to the ban - and the second was perpetrated by a Somalian admitted as a child, who wouldn't be affected by better vetting.
The revised ban will take effect on March 16, providing some time for authorities and travellers to prepare. It's an improvement on the first ban, which the administration enacted without warning the relevant government departments, causing chaos and confusion at US airports. Another difference is the new order's clear exclusion of holders of US visas and 'green cards' - which grant the right to permanent residency. It also restores visas that were revoked under the first ban; that may allow the Aziz brothers from Yemen - who were pressured into signing away their green cards - to be reunited with their father, a US citizen. And it no longer prioritises refugee claims from religious minorities - typically Christians in Middle Eastern nations - after the language was denounced as religious discrimination.
The new order empowers authorities to issue 'case-by-case waivers' to immigrants from the six targeted countries (the previous ban limited this discretion to actions 'in the national interest'). Those eligible for waivers include foreign students caught outside the US when the order is signed; immigrants with existing, significant contacts with the US; foreign nationals with 'significant business or professional obligations' in the US, or who plan to visit or reside with close family members who are legal US residents; children and those in need of urgent medical care; those whose entry is justified by the specific circumstances of the case; and immigrants who have served on behalf of the US government and can prove it.
The order specifically addresses several of the tales of injustice and heartlessness revealed during the first ban. The clause about medical care might have helped a 4-month-old Iranian girl, who was initially denied entry into the US even though she was due to have open-heart surgery at a hospital in Oregon the next week. The exception for children could have prevented a 5-year-old Iranian boy from being, reportedly, handcuffed and detained by himself. And the clause about business or professional obligations may offer some relief for employees of US companies. But it's unclear whether arriving travellers will be given food or water during detainment or allowed to speak with an attorney, two privileges that many were denied during the first ban.
It's difficult to take the travel ban as gospel, as visitors from countries not on Trump's list have been treated poorly and absurdly in recent weeks. For instance, a Nigerian software engineer with a placement in the US was given a written test on computing by immigration officials. Moreover, a Welsh schoolteacher was prevented from joining a school trip to New York, despite the British government's reassurances that UK citizens weren't subject to the ban. And a 70-year-old Australian writer of children's books was detained, scolded and harangued until the immigration official learned one of her books was given to Prince George.
Trump's new and improved travel ban is a clever compromise. His administration has done away with the most egregious anti-Muslim language, and written in a slew of exceptions to avoid headlines of ridiculous or inhumane behaviour by immigration officials. However, the suspension of the first ban hasn't prevented visitors to the US from rejection without reason or poor treatment; implementing a second ban won't help matters.
The order also plays into xenophobia by painting country's entire populations with the same brush, and flagging all people fleeing for their lives as potential threats. The ban's likely undoing will be that it isn't based on evidence; it's founded on fear, paranoia and racism. Trump may once again be holding a losing hand.