President Donald Trump's new immigration order will remove Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens face a temporary U.S. travel ban, American officials say, citing the latest draft in circulation. Trump is expected to sign the executive order in the coming days.
Four officials told The Associated Press that the decision followed pressure from the Pentagon and State Department, which had urged the White House to reconsider Iraq's inclusion on the list given its key role in fighting the Islamic State group.
Citizens of six other predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — will remain on the travel ban list, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the order before it is signed. Those bans are effective for 90 days.
The new order includes other changes as well. The officials said the 12-page document no longer singles out Syrian refugees for an indefinite ban and instead includes them as part of a general, 120-day suspension of new refugee admissions.
The officials also said the order won't include any explicit exemption for religious minorities in the countries targeted by the travel ban. Critics had accused the administration of adding such language to help Christians get into the United States while excluding Muslims.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump signed his original executive order in late January. It sparked immediate confusion, panic and outrage as some travelers were detained in U.S. airports before being sent back overseas and others were barred from boarding flights at foreign airports.
The federal government initially blocked U.S. green card holders before offering those legal residents special permission to come into the country. It finally decided the order didn't apply to them.
The State Department provisionally revoked roughly 60,000 valid visas in all, before a federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the ban. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
Under the revised order, officials said, all existing visas will be honored.
The administration had been planning to roll out the new executive order Wednesday, only to delay it for unspecified reasons. It was unclear when the signing would happen.
"When we have one, we'll announce it," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday.
The new ban was originally scheduled to be released last week. The delays contrast with the rushed nature of the original order's implementation, which Trump had said was necessary because "bad guys" would otherwise rush into the country.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump on Tuesday evening defended his effort.
"We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep out those who would do us harm," he said.
After Trump signed the original order, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would consider reciprocal measures. Many Iraqi lawmakers urged the government to ban Americans from Iraq in response, despite the potential effects that might have on the anti-IS fight.
Al-Abadi then met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Baghdad and Vice President Mike Pence in Munich earlier this month this month. Both discussions emphasized ways of strengthening cooperation.
"They've invited us into their country to help them," Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Wednesday. "They are protecting us here and we're fighting this enemy that threatens all of our countries together. So I would prefer personally not to see anything that would reflect on that except that we have a very strong partnership."
Townsend said he didn't have details on the travel ban, but noted that Iraqis "were relieved" when Trump's original order was suspended. They're now waiting to see how the situation plays out, he said.
The Trump administration's changes to the immigration order follow a report by intelligence analysts at the Homeland Security Department, which found insufficient evidence that citizens of the seven Muslim-majority countries posed a terror threat to the United States. A draft of the analysis was obtained last week by the AP.
Airports, legal volunteers prepare for new Trump travel ban
Airport officials and civil rights lawyers around the country are getting ready for the new ban — mindful of the chaos that accompanied his initial executive order but hopeful the forthcoming version will be rolled out in a more orderly way.
Since last month's ban, which courts have put on hold, a section of the international arrivals area at Dulles International Airport outside the nation's capital has been transformed into a virtual law firm, with legal volunteers ready to greet travelers from affected countries and ask if they saw anyone being detained.
Similar efforts are underway at other airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International, where officials have drawn up plans for crowd control after thousands crammed the baggage claim area to protest the original ban.
"The plan is to be as ready as possible," said Lindsay Nash, an immigration law professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York who has been helping prepare emergency petitions on behalf of those who might be detained.
Trump's initial action, issued Jan. 27, temporarily barred citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya from coming to the U.S. and halted acceptance of all refugees. The president said his administration would review vetting procedures amid concerns about terrorism in those seven nations.
Protesters flooded U.S. airports that weekend, seeking to free travelers detained by customs officials amid confusion about who could enter the country, including U.S. permanent residents known as green-card holders.
Attorneys also challenged the order in court, including officials from Washington state. That lawsuit, which Minnesota joined, resulted in a federal judge temporarily blocking the government from enforcing the travel ban, a decision unanimously upheld by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Many civil rights lawyers and activists have said they don't believe a new order would cure all the constitutional problems of the original, including the claim that it was motivated by anti-Muslim discrimination.
"It's not enough to just tweak an order and not change the nature of why it was issued in the first place," said Rula Aoun, director of the Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn, Michigan, which sued over the initial ban and is prepared to do the same with the rewrite if necessary.
In New York, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said the organization was ready to go to court if the administration tries to immediately enforce its new order.
"The primary focus is being able to respond immediately to any request by the government to lift any of the injunctions, before the courts have had a chance to examine the new order," he said.
Activists and airport officials alike said they hoped it would be phased in to give travelers fair warning, which might preclude any detentions from arriving flights.
"We are prepared and willing," said Rebecca Sharpless, who runs the immigration clinic at the University of Miami School of Law. "But it's unlikely to cause the same kind of chaos of last time."
At Dulles, Sea-Tac, Minneapolis-St. Paul and other airports, legal volunteers have greeted arriving travelers in shifts every day since the initial ban, wearing name tags or posting signs in different languages to identify themselves.
The legal-services nonprofit OneJustice was ready to send email alerts to 3,000 volunteers in California if needed, deploying them to San Francisco and Los Angeles airports for people affected by any new order, chief executive Julia Wilson said.
In Chicago, travelers have been signing up for an assistance program started by the local Council on American-Islamic Relations office to ensure swift legal help if they're detained.
Groups urged those arriving at 17 other airports, including Miami, Atlanta and San Diego, to register with Airport Lawyer , a secure website and free mobile app that alerts volunteer lawyers to ensure travelers make it through customs without trouble.
Asti Gallina, a third-year student at the University of Washington Law School, volunteered at Sea-Tac for the first time Tuesday. It was quiet, she said.
"An essential part of the American narrative is the ability to come to America," Gallina said. "Any infringement of that is something that needs to be resisted."
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Jonathan Lemire and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.