Trump again tweaks US travel ban, now 8 nations on list

The Trump administration on Sunday announced new restrictions on visitors from eight countries, expanding the travel ban that has spurred fierce legal challenges as well as international outrage.

In announcing the new rules, officials said they are meant to be both tough and targeted. The move comes on the day the key portion of President Donald Trump's travel ban, which bars the issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries, was due to expire.

North Korea, Venezuela and Chad were included in the new ban, expanding the list to eight countries covered by the original travel bans. Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were left on the list of affected countries in a new proclamation issued by the president. Restrictions on citizens from Sudan were lifted.

Iraqi citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions but will face enhanced scrutiny or vetting. The addition of North Korea and Venezuela broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list.

The current ban, enacted in March, was set to expire on Sunday evening. The new restrictions are slated to take effect on 18 October and resulted from a review of Trump's original travel bans.

"As president, I must act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people," Trump wrote in a proclamation announcing the changes for visitors from specific nations. On Twitter, he added: "Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet."

Trump's original travel ban, signed as an executive order in the first days of his presidency, was always meant to be a temporary measure while his administration crafted more permanent rules. A senior administration official cautioned the new restrictions are not meant to last forever, but are "necessary and conditions-based, not time-based'.'

The new travel ban represents the third version offered by the Trump administration.

The restrictions on Venezuela are more narrowly crafted than the others, targeting that country's leadership and their family members.

Sudan fell off the travel ban list issued at the beginning of the year. Senior administration officials said a review of Sudan's cooperation with the US government on national security and information-sharing showed it was appropriate to remove them from the list.

The new restrictions will be phased in over time, officials said, and the restrictions will not affect anyone who already holds a US visa.

Critics of the administration have argued that the travel bans are an unconstitutional attempt to deliver on Trump's campaign promise of "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States".

Administration officials deny any of the bans were aimed at Muslims, saying they are based on security concerns about visitors from countries with failing or weak governments.

"The restrictions either previously or now were never, ever based on race, religion or creed,'' one senior administration official told The Washington Post. "Those governments are simply not compliant with our basic security requirements."

The original version, signed as an executive order in January, blocked citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries - Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria - as well as all refugees across the globe.

When that measure was blocked in court, Trump signed a revised order removing Iraq from the banned list and only barring the issuance of visas to citizens of the six remaining countries and all refugees.

The second order, too, was blocked by judges, but the Supreme Court in June allowed it to go into effect with a significant caveat. The administration, the court said, could not block from entering the country those with a "bona fide" connection to the United States, such as family members or those with firm offers of employment.

The ban on citizens of the six countries was to last 90 days; the ban on refugees was to last 120 days. The refugee ban is set to expire on 24 October, and it was not immediately clear what impact the new restrictions might have on it.

The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for 10 October on whether the measure is legal at its core. The Justice Department signalled on Sunday night that the new rules could affect how the court handles the case - lawyers for the administration filed a letter asking for new court briefs to address issues raised by the new rules.

In explaining how the administration came to single out these eight countries, officials said many governments already met US requests - using secure biometric passports, for example, and willingly passing along terrorism and criminal-history information. Others agreed to make changes and share more data. But some were either unable or unwilling to give the United States what it needed, officials said.

The president had signalled earlier this month that an expansion of the travel ban was likely. After the recent bomb attack in London, Trump wrote on Twitter, "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific - but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!"