721 People (Not 109) Were Denied Entry Under Trump Ban
WASHINGTON — A far larger number of people were denied entry into the United States than President Trump initially said after defending his executive order on refugees, Department of Homeland Security officials acknowledged on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that only 109 people were denied boarding on planes to the United States after his order, but during a news briefing at the Customs and Border Protection agency’s headquarters on Tuesday, officials said that 721 people had been denied boarding for the United States after it began enforcing the travel ban.
Homeland security officials said the White House was referring to the number of people denied boarding during the initial hours after the travel ban was signed when people were in transit to the United States, based on preliminary calculations.
The officials also disclosed that 872 refugees were granted waivers to enter the country, despite Mr. Trump’s executive order freezing resettlement. Customs officials said the waivers were granted because the refugees were “ready to travel.” They had already been vetted by the government, they said.
John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, said that Mr. Trump’s order did not amount to a “travel ban,” adding, “This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system.”
But Mr. Kelly also confirmed that, while he saw versions of the executive order, he did not see the final order before it was signed by the president.
He said that executives at homeland security were involved in writing the order, but added that the knowledge of it and its distribution was limited. Mr. Kelly said that he had known that the order was coming for some time, but that he was not involved personally in the process to the degree to which he “corrected grammar or say we needed to change things.”
The New York Times reported on Monday that Mr. Kelly was on a conference call about the order when it was signed on Friday and was given his first full briefing about its contents later that day.
Mr. Trump’s order initially created chaos and confusion at airports around the world. Passengers, many of them with green cards that allow them to live and work in the United States, were barred from flights into the country. A number of people with visas were suddenly unsure if they would be allowed into the United States, and many were stopped when they arrived.
Neither homeland security nor related agencies posted any information on their websites or social media accounts informing the public about Mr. Trump’s travel ban until Sunday.
Immigration proponents and lawyers representing people stuck at airports because of the ban say they were unable to speak to anyone at Customs and Border Protection or at the headquarters of homeland security.
The first briefing on the order by homeland security officials for the news media was at 9 p.m. on Saturday, long after news reports raised questions about the effects of the order and after thousands of people had lined the sidewalks and terminals of international airports to protest the ban.
During the Tuesday briefing with the news media, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin K. McAleenan, rejected criticism of the agency’s efforts to enforce the order.
“We worked quickly to implement, and I think the process has really smoothed out,” he said.
Mr. Kelly also insisted that there was no chaos. “Our officers who are at the counters, so to speak, the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport,” he said.
Despite the ban on travelers from the seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — Mr. Kelly insisted that the country remained open to visitors despite their religious beliefs.
“The vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims that live on this planet, the vast majority of them have, all other things being equal, have access to the United States,” Mr. Kelly said.
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