US President Donald Trump boasted Saturday that his “very strict” crackdown on Muslim immigration was working “very nicely,” amid mounting resistance to the order which has been branded by many as blatantly discriminatory.
In an executive order signed Friday, Trump halted the arrival of refugees for at least 120 days and imposed tough new controls on travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen for the next three months.
“It’s not a Muslim ban,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over,” Trump told reporters, after travelers from those countries were stopped from boarding US-bound planes, triggering angry protests.
“We’re going to have a very, very strict ban and we’re going to have extreme vetting which we should have had in this country for many years.”
His comments came as the order faced its first lawsuit, signaling a tough battle ahead in US courts.
The legal challenge was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups after two Iraqi men were detained Friday night at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Several US airports were rocked by protests and arrests after the ban.
It was not immediately clear how many travelers got caught up in Trump’s crackdown, which he says is necessary to prevent “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the United States.
The ban has also triggered a political backlash.
“To my colleagues: don’t ever again lecture me on American moral leadership if you chose to be silent today,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, tweeted late Friday.
His tweet was accompanied by the now iconic photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 after a failed attempt to flee Syria’s brutal war to join relatives in Canada.
Trump spoke by phone on Saturday with various world leaders, amid growing international alarm over his moves.
In a flurry of calls that started early in the morning and rounded out an already frantically paced week, Trump spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also had a call planned for later in the day with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Hollande urged Trump to “respect” the principle of accepting refugees. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country has been open about welcoming refugees, wrote a Twitter message of support to “those fleeing persecution, terror and war.”
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Trump’s pronouncement on Muslim immigration makes good on one of his most controversial campaign promises to subject travelers from Islamic countries to “extreme vetting,” which he declared would make America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“This is big stuff,” the new US president declared at the Pentagon on Friday, after signing an executive order entitled “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”
The decree suspends the entire US refugee resettlement program for at least 120 days while tough vetting rules are established.
The new protocols “ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”
In addition, they specifically bar Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely, or until the president himself decides that they no longer pose a threat.
Meanwhile, no visas will be issued for 90 days to migrants or visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
US authorities wasted no time implementing Trump’s order, detaining travelers arriving at American airports within hours of the measures being signed, media reports said Saturday.