White House issues visa freeze for six countries

TODAY Rose Palmieri is three months into a challenge against the Trump administration’s travel ban. (Image by Arun Shrivastava/Demotix/Getty Images) ADVERTISING Read more CAMP DAVID, Md. (AP) — The United States is ending a

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Rose Palmieri is three months into a challenge against the Trump administration’s travel ban. (Image by Arun Shrivastava/Demotix/Getty Images)

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CAMP DAVID, Md. (AP) — The United States is ending a 90-day freeze on issuing visas to people from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who can show they have either a relative in the U.S. or a job offer.

The move is the latest affirmation of the latest version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which was blocked by courts after multiple iterations. Two federal judges blocked part of the order, but the Supreme Court has yet to rule on its legality.

The countries were added to the travel ban to help U.S. officials better weed out people seeking to do the United States harm, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.

The three-month freeze on issuing visas was not always strictly enforced and caused headaches for diplomats and applicants alike, according to diplomats and others. The ban applied to grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people already in the United States.

The justices in June allowed the administration to continue enforcing the ban against people from those six countries and two others it deemed not major security threats. The administration argued the four new countries were added to better detect “potential terrorists” and keep the United States safe.

The Supreme Court offered no explanation in allowing the ban to go forward. Lower courts had struck down part of the ban, saying it violated the Constitution and discriminated against Muslims.

The ban took effect in June but was challenged soon after with a new lawsuit and a new visa freeze.

“The departments of State and Homeland Security have overwhelmingly found that there is not a terrorist threat to the United States emanating from the six countries listed in the executive order,” Sanders said in the statement. “The restrictions on these countries are in place as a necessary and effective tool to help protect Americans.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court allowed the suspension of the restrictions on these countries during the ongoing litigation, and we look forward to continuing to have the opportunity to defend these restrictions as the case moves forward.”

Trump’s bans on citizens of the six countries, as well as those from Somalia and Syria, have been in place since early March. The administration scrapped the previous ban after it caused chaos at airports and significant court challenges. The two lower courts that struck down the earlier bans also struck down the latest versions.

This time, the travel ban applies to people from the six countries who want to enter the United States unless they have a close family relationship or a job offer from a U.S. company. People from the two other countries will be exempt from the ban if they have a relationship with a U.S. person or entity.

U.S. authorities had struggled to place any hard numbers on the freeze on visas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified in August that the State Department anticipated issuing 10,000 visas to people from the six banned countries by the end of October.

There have been complications over the last three months. There have been visa applications backlogged and applicants with U.S. ties delayed receiving approval, according to the State Department.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration stopped issuing visas to non-U.S. citizens from Chad for 60 days after the country missed an October deadline to improve information sharing with the U.S. Chad also lost its lottery for non-immigrant visas for next year.

Transfers of U.S. citizens from Chad were halted in March when officials asked for more information before approving visas. In late June, U.S. officials told Chad that if the country didn’t improve its security record within a week, the visa freeze would remain in place.

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