American President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban Monday that administration officials said they hope will end legal challenges over the matter by imposing a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority-Muslim nations.
In addition, the nation's refugee program will be suspended for 120 days, and it will not accept more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 cap set by the Obama administration.
Trump signed the new ban out of public view, according to White House officials. The order will not take effect until March 16, officials said.
The new guidelines mark a dramatic departure from Trump's original ban. They lay out a far more specific national security basis for the order, block the issuance of only new visas, and name just six of the seven countries included in the first executive order, omitting Iraq.
The order also details specific sets of people who would be able to apply for case-by-case waivers to the order, including those previously admitted to the United States for "a continuous period of work, study, or other long-term activity," those with "significant business or professional obligations" and those seeking to visit or live with family.
"This executive order responsibly provides a needed pause, so we can carefully review how we scrutinize people coming here from these countries of concern," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in announcing that the order had been signed.
Even before the ink was dry, though, Democrats and civil liberties groups asserted that the new order was legally tainted in the same way as the first one: It was a thinly disguised Muslim ban.
"While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear," said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, D, who had joined the legal fight against the first ban. "This doesn't just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump's draconian policies - it's diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe."
Said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project: "The only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban. Instead, President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people."
State Department, Homeland Security and Justice Department officials defended the new order as a necessary measure to improve public safety. They said the countries implicated - Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen - were either state sponsors of terrorism, or their territories were so compromised that they were effectively safe havens for terrorist groups. Iraq was omitted, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, because it is an "important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS," and its leaders had agreed to implement new security measures.