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Trump's Immigration Freeze Faces Legal Challenges And Public Criticism


Resistance is building to President Trump's executive order that freezes immigration from seven majority Muslim countries and halts refugees worldwide. Lawsuits are in the works. Foreign critics are weighing in, and some opposition is coming from within the U.S. government - for one, the acting attorney general, a holdover from the Obama administration.

Sally Yates told federal lawyers not to defend the Trump executive order. But her decision may only be in effect for a short time - until the senate approves Trump's choice for a new attorney general, Jeff Sessions. In the meantime, the White House is standing fast, as NPR's Greg Myre reports.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Several judges blocked parts of Trump's immigration freeze over the weekend amid confusion at airports around the country. And today, the Council for American-Islamic Relations, or CARE, announced a suit against Trump's order on behalf of more than 20 people who are not identified due to their uncertain status. The group says Trump's move discriminates against Muslims and that he intends to favor Christians.


SHEREEF AKEEL: For the first time, there's a broad proclamation that our country has issued an edict that it prefers one religion over another.

MYRE: That's attorney Shereef Akeel announcing the suit in Washington this afternoon. It claims that while the president's order, quote, "does not apply to all Muslims, the policy only applies to Muslims." Over at the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted the restrictions are only about national security and the administration will keep them in place.


SEAN SPICER: You don't know when the next attack's coming. And so the best you can do is to get ahead of it.

MYRE: Spicer and others in the administration deny the move is directed at Muslims. They note there are more than 40 mostly Muslim countries that are not part of the immigration freeze. And administration officials argue the number affected is limited. They say it was 109 travelers out of more than 300,000 that enter the U.S. on a typical day. But the government is still clearing up some fuzzy areas.

The initial word was that green card holders, those who are permanent legal residents in the U.S., would be barred during the freeze. But the Department of Homeland Security now says green card holders can come and go. And there are other attempts to reshape the policy. The Defense Department says it's building a list of Iraqis who helped U.S. troops on the battlefield and wants them exempt from the order.

Meanwhile, Democrats say they believe Trump's order is about keeping his one-time campaign promise to ban all Muslims and not about stopping a terrorist attack.


DAN KILDEE: This policy is morally bankrupt. It is an attempt to pander to narrow voices to which this president promised a Muslim ban.

MYRE: That's Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan on the House floor today. And there's also been a backlash abroad, including from countries working with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State. To many Iraqis who've been battling alongside the U.S. military for more than a decade, the president's order feels like a slap in the face. Iraq's parliament called for reciprocal measures against the U.S.

State Department workers and former U.S. national security officials are signing letters calling the freeze counterproductive for the fight against extremism, and there's more to come. Jordan's King Abdullah, one of the closest U.S. allies in the Arab world, met Vice President Mike Pence today in Washington. The king is scheduled to meet Trump on Thursday. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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