Senior Trump administration officials today defended a revised travel ban that bars people of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
Officials said that the order is not aimed at Muslims but is an effort to safeguard the nation from foreign extremists.
"This is not a Muslim ban in any way, shape or form," a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call after President Donald Trump signed the revised executive order.
"This is a temporary suspension on the entry of nationals from six countries that have either failed states at this point, or that are state sponsors of terror; that we don't have the ability to make safe, adequate screening and vetting determinations for nationals under current procedures because of those weaknesses," said the official, who did not want to be identified.
"There are dozens and hundreds of millions, if not one-point-something billion Muslim individuals -- followers of the Islamic faith, who are not subject to this executive order, who are free to come to the United States under our visa and -- admissions regime, the same way that they were a week ago, four weeks ago, four months ago, four years ago for the most part," the official said.
"Again, this is not in any way targeted as a Muslim ban and we firmly want to make sure that everyone understands that very, very important provision," the official said.
Under the new order there will be a 90-day suspension of travel to the US by nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, during which the Department of State and Homeland Security will conduct a review to determine how it can improve the screening process for foreign nationals seeking to enter the US.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at a news conference that Trump concluded that these actions are necessary to protect the US from those who, unfortunately, wish to do harm to the country.
"These governments simply cannot or not adequately supply satisfactory information about their own nationals. In the absence of adequate information from these governments, the President has had to act to protect the security of the American people," Spicer said.
Spicer explained that after the original executive order, Iraq's government took steps to increase their cooperation with US immigration authorities and improve their vetting process, leading them to be removed from the list of countries covered by the temporary travel suspension.
"We hope other countries will also take proactive action to ensure the security of all of our nations," Spicer said.
He said there are a number of exceptions to this temporary travel suspension.
The order explicitly states that the suspension does not apply to green card holders; foreign nationals currently in the US; foreign nationals currently holding valid visas; foreign nationals who are dual citizens of a designated country travelling on a passport issued by a non- designated country and foreign nationals who have been granted asylum or admitted as refugees previously.
"We must find a way to better screen refugee applicants to maintain the safety of our own communities. This suspension will temporarily reduce the investigative burdens on the agencies that participate in our refugee program, allowing them to properly review and revise their standards and practices," he said.