Donald Trump on Monday signed a revised executive order to reinstate a ban on immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries and suspend the US refugee program.
The new ban, which revokes a previous order issued on 27 January that prompted instant chaos and was eventually blocked by federal judges, marked a significant retreat for Trump and his administration’s vigorous defense of the original travel ban as being within the president’s legal authority. But activists said they were planning to challenge the new ban.
The new order seeks to address prior complaints by removing language that granted priority to religious minorities for refugee resettlement, which had been viewed as targeting Muslims. It states that Trump’s original directive “was not motivated by animus toward any religion”, a remark rejected instantly by refugee advocates and civil liberty groups, who said they planned to challenge the second order on similar grounds.
It also includes specific exemptions for lawful permanent residents, who had initially been covered by the previous order.
And it removes Iraq from the list of targeted states, and implements a more gradual rollout, meaning the new travel ban will not come into full effect for another 10 days.
“Make no mistake,” the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters on Monday in reference to the changes. “We lost the element of surprise back when the court enjoined this in the ninth circuit and we had to go back to the drawing board.”
The president quietly signed the order away from the presence of cameras or the press, a noteworthy change from the original travel ban’s rollout at the Department of Defense on 27 January.
The revised ban was instead announced by the heads of the agencies that will be tasked with overseeing its implementation. Addressing a limited pool of reporters on Monday, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, John Kelly, and attorney general, Jeff Sessions, dubbed the move critical to US national security.
The White House has continued to defend the travel ban as a pressing matter of national security. But the administration appeared to undermine its own rationale by delaying the revised order last week, citing a desire not to crowd out the positive media coverage that followed Trump’s joint address before Congress.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said the delay was “all the proof Americans need to know that this has absolutely nothing to do with national security”.
“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” Schumer said in a statement, adding: “It is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”