President Donald Trump’s immigration clampdown sparked a global backlash for a second day, as aides offered conflicting interpretations of its reach, allies from the U.K. to Germany condemned the move and major international companies said it threatened to strangle the free flow of workers and commerce.
Trump showed no sign of backing down, issuing statements comparing his order to one issued by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and effectively telling fellow Republicans who criticized him to mind their own business.
“This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” Trump said in a statement Sunday pushing back against the international uproar that followed his action. “There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
His tweets were even more direct: “…Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III,” Trump wrote.
Trump was defending an executive order issued two days earlier that sets new barriers to entry for people from seven mostly Islamic countries. Refugees, visa holders and permanent U.S. residents were all among those affected, at least initially.
Figuring It Out
The fallout from the order was swift, compounded by the fact that few — including some of Trump’s own aides — seemed clear what was in it. Two of his top aides, strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, had to get on the phone with British officials to walk them through it. Another Trump aide said the order added a new step to re-entry for some green card holders. Yet another aide said the status of such permanent legal residents would be clarified later.
Late in the day Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement declaring that the entry of green-card holders is in the national interest. He said such individuals would be allowed into the country barring any significant evidence that they pose “a serious threat to public safety and welfare.”
One Trump friend and adviser, Tom Barrack, said the president has indicated that the immigration order serves two purposes: one, to keep a potential terrorist out, but two to send a signal to the larger Middle East that the countries there need to take control of the situation at home and stop using a flood of refugees as a bargaining chip to pressure the West.
Given that Trump’s foreign policy team is only now taking shape, “it is just a way to push back with the only tool that he has, so he is giving a time-out while his team gets in place and then they will have a run at it,” Barrack said in an interview.
Trump views the order as the first step of what he has described a “Marshall plan” for the Middle East, where he will help countries in the region with U.S. support in hopes of improving the lives of the people there by putting as many as 60 million young people to work on electricity and other infrastructure projects, Barrack said. Trump made calls on Sunday to U.S. allies in the region, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.
Courts Jump In
Amid the confusion over Trump’s order, the courts went into the breach, with no fewer than three federal judges seeking to block parts of it temporarily. The judges intended to prevent people stopped from entering the country from being sent back home, and to let most of those who were stopped enter the U.S. But they did little to clarify the state of the law going forward. White House officials insisted the rulings were moot because the travelers were processed as provided under the law.
Read about a judge’s ruling that may help tech workers bypass the order.
Adding to the legal drama is the possibility that Trump could name his choice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court as early as Monday, setting the constitutionality of this order as a backdrop to what is sure to be a brutal confirmation battle with Democrats who joined the outcry against Trump’s move.
The human drama played out at airports across America, Europe and the Middle East, as officials struggled to interpret instructions that appeared to catch much of the U.S. government by surprise. Protests grew — at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, Logan International Airport in Boston, O’Hare Airport in Chicago and elsewhere — as squadrons of immigration lawyers commandeered food courts and other public areas to try to plot the legal strategy to free travelers caught behind customs barriers by an order few yet understood.
At the same time, the potential implications began to set in for multinational companies. After an early outburst of anger by some American technology leaders — Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla’s Elon Musk — chief executive officers of other industries from finance to autos started to grapple with the order’s reach.
Jeff Immelt, General Electric Co.’s chairman and CEO, wrote in an internal e-mail that GE has “many employees from the named countries” who are “critical to our success and they are our friends and partners.” GE, he said, would “continue to make our voice heard with the new administration.”
Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz, who wrote he had a “heavy heart” over Trump’s immigration order, said the company plans to hire 10,000 refugees over five years around the world.
Silicon Valley executives were more outspoken. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, an immigrant from India, called the policy “painful” and Microsoft Corp.’s Satya Nadella took to the company’s LinkedIn to highlight “the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, for the world.”
Friday’s executive order suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days and imposed a 90-day entry freeze for citizens of seven countries, from U.S. ally Iraq to longstanding enemy Iran.
The confusion around the order was exemplified by the debate over its effect on holders of green cards. At least 60 were stopped from entering Saturday at one airport alone, Dulles International outside Washington.
Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus initially said the green card holders wouldn’t be denied entry. “If you’re coming in and out of one of those seven countries,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “then you’re going to be subjected, temporarily, with more questioning until a better program is put in place over the next several months.”
A second Trump aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the changes would amount to only one additional step — some added screening when they return to the U.S. — but that they would be let in barring any reason to think they had become a threat. Kelly’s action was aimed at clearing up the confusion.
Through it all, the White House insisted the program’s implementation was running smoothly and affected only about 109 people on a day when 350,000 travelers entered the U.S. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was merely putting Americans first. “The safety of our country has got to be paramount,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
But two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, warned that the measure may not succeed even on those grounds. They said it risked spurring anti-American sentiment and turning into a “self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” questioning whether all the relevant government departments had been properly consulted.
The two also said they were “concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.”
Republican senators cautioned that any actions not be seen as imposing a religious test on entry into the U.S., and some said the order was badly framed.
“We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders,” Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated.”
Unsure of the rules, officials at airports everywhere played it safe. In Amsterdam and London, all U.S.-bound travelers from the seven countries — the others are Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya — were being turned away. In the U.S., more than 100 people were detained on arrival; some were later released when the courts stepped in.
Passengers arriving at Boston’s Logan international Airport mustn’t be “detained or returned based solely on the basis of the executive order,” District Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled on Sunday.
The leaders of key American allies distanced themselves from Trump.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would welcome those fleeing persecution, “regardless of your faith.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spoke to Trump on Saturday, expressed her concern that the fight against terrorism “doesn’t justify placing people of a particular origin or faith under general suspicion,” according to her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert. “We do not agree with this kind of approach,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said of the immigration freeze on Sunday, two days after meeting with Trump in Washington.
Countries including the U.K., Germany and Canada have been deeply enmeshed for decades in U.S.-led security and economic systems. Trump has thrown them into question.
He’s threatened to withhold military assistance from NATO allies who don’t pay their share of defense costs, and rip up trade accords that he says were rigged against U.S. interests. The immigration row comes just a few days after Trump’s plan to build a border wall sparked a fight with his Mexican counterpart, who canceled a trip to Washington.