Trump’s ban on refugees, immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, explained

President Trump has argued that the immigration ban will protect the country from terrorists.

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration caused immediate controversy. 

Trump and his administration have argued that the action is meant to protect the country from terrorists, but critics say the order is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended the order on Feb. 3, 2017, allowing travelers to enter the country. Trump and his administration requested a suspension of the block, but the appeals court initially denied it. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then said it would hear testimony on Tuesday, Feb. 7, from the states of Washington and Minnesota, as well as from the Justice Department, on whether it should restore the ban.

Two days later, on Feb. 9, the appeals court unanimously upheld the temporary suspension of the travel ban. The ruling, however, does not resolve the lawsuit, but relates instead to whether Trump’s order should be suspended while litigation proceeds.

Following the setback, Trump said on Feb. 10 that he was considering rewriting the order or possibly issuing a new immigration executive order instead.

A White House official also said Trump’s administration would not take the travel ban case to the Supreme Court. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, however, later said an appeal to the Supreme Court of the travel ban stay was still possible.

Despite all of the back and forth from the Trump administration, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Justice Department and the state of Washington to submit briefs on whether a larger panel of judges should decide if the travel ban should remain on hold.

Here’s a breakdown of the executive order and its ripple effects:

What the order stipulates

Who is banned: Citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries — are banned from the United States for 90 days. This excludes people with diplomatic, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, C-2, G-1, G-2, G-3 and G-4 visas.

Multiple Trump aides and the Department of Homeland Security have said that green card holders, although included in the order, would be admitted but are subject to security checks.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program has also been suspended for 120 days, barring refugees of any country from entering the United States.

Taking that a step further, it bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely. 

Exceptions: It says that Homeland Security and the secretary of state can admit individuals on a case-by-case basis, but caps the number of refugees admitted in 2017 at 50,000, down from the 110,000 that former President Barack Obama had promised. 

The order says Homeland Security should prioritize refugees who are part of a minority religion in their nation.

Visa program: The Visa Interview Waiver Program, which says repeat visitors do not need to appear in person for an interview when they need to renew their visa, was suspended.

Data collection: It instructs Homeland Security to provide public data on the number of immigrants in the United States who have been connected to “terrorism-related offenses,” were radicalized after entering the United States and have committed “acts of gender-based violence against women.”

Combating terrorism 

While the executive order mentions the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as an example of why the ban is needed, critics have mentioned that none of the attackers were from the countries included in Trump’s order. The alleged attackers were from Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Lebanon and Egypt. 

Additionally, the attackers behind the San Bernardino shooting and Orlando nightclub shooting — two of the deadliest mass shootings in American history — were not born in any of the countries included in the ban. The San Bernardino shooters were born in the United States and Pakistan, and the Orlando attacker was born in the United States.

Refugees and immigrants affected

There are more than 21.3 million refugees worldwide, the UN refugee agency estimates. Over half of them are children, the agency said. 

Around 85,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in 2016, the Refugee Processing Center said. Most of the refugees came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq and Somalia. 

During the 2015 fiscal year, almost 90,000 immigrant or nonimmigrant visas were issued to people in the seven countries included in the ban, according to the State Department.

People detained

A day after Trump signed the order, people were detained at airports in the United States, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, and abroad. 

Trump tweeted that 109 people were detained and questioned, but according to a Homeland Security document, more than 735 people were questioned and 200 were denied entry between Friday and Monday. 

Homeland Security also said 348 people were prevented from boarding flights to the United States in the same time period.

Sally Yates fired

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was removed from her position by Trump on Jan. 30, 2017, after she said the Justice Department would not defend his executive order.

In a letter to Justice Department lawyers, Yates said she had the responsibility to ensure that the Justice Department’s position is “legally defensible,” “informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts” and meet the department’s “obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

“At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful,” she wrote.

Yates was replaced by Attorney Dana J. Boente, who held the position until Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, was sworn in Feb. 9.


Following the news of airports detaining travelers, protests began at airports across the country. In New York on Saturday, protesters descended on Kennedy Airport and the federal court in Brooklyn. The next day, about 10,000 people protested the ban in downtown Manhattan, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

A number of other demonstrations have been planned to protest the order and other Trump policies.

Nicole Brown