With Travel Ban On Hold, Where Do Things Stand With Enhanced Vetting?
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Donald Trump's travel ban is back in federal court today. A three-judge panel in Seattle will hear arguments on whether to leave the ban on hold, where it's been for the last two months. The administration has tried twice now to craft a travel ban that can pass constitutional muster.
Meanwhile, there's been little progress made to improve screening of potential travelers from the six Muslim majority countries that are the focus of the ban. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now for more on this. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this case is going before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Fair to say President Trump has had his fair share of issues with this court.
HORSLEY: He has been very critical of this court. He's already lost one round in the 9th Circuit when the appeals court ruled against his original travel ban. Now, he's back with a more narrowly tailored version, and it's also been put on hold by a lower court in Hawaii. Here's how the president reacted when that decision came down last March.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a watered-down version of the first one. This is a watered-down version. And let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.
HORSLEY: Actually, that defiant language has not been helping the president or his legal team. In ruling against the revised travel ban, the district judge in Hawaii found you can't separate the narrow text of the order from the context, including Trump's campaign call for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
MARTIN: So the travel ban was supposed to last for 90 days. And then during that time, the government was supposed to tighten up screening procedures for visitors from these particular countries, these six. It's already been about 60 days, so what's happening to those screening procedures?
HORSLEY: Not very much. You're right, the idea was the government would use this 90-day pause in travel to figure out what kind of information it needed to get from those foreign governments to determine who is safe to allow into the United States, who might pose a security threat.
And in theory, that work could have been going on even while the travel ban was on hold. If so, they'd be two-thirds the way done by now. But the administration complains that the Hawaii court order was so sweeping, even the vetting work has ground to a halt. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall explained that to a different appeals court last week.
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JEFFREY WALL: We have complied by that injunction. We've put our pens down. We haven't done any work on it. So the 90-day period, in our view, has not been able to run at all.
MARTIN: OK. So the president's order, Scott, also sought to temporarily stop refugees from coming into the U.S. What's happening there?
HORSLEY: Since the order was put on hold, refugee resettlements have continued, albeit at a slower pace, 800 or 900 a week. If that pace were to continue through September, which is the end of the government's fiscal year, we would see a total this year of around 60,000 or 65,000 refugees.
That's above the ceiling of 50,000 that Trump wanted to set, but it's well below the 110,000 level that former President Obama wanted. Now, the government spending bill that Trump signed a couple weeks ago did preserve level funding for refugee resettlement at about $1.2 billion for the next five months.
MARTIN: So members of the Trump administration have talked about expanding the so-called extreme vetting, looking into enhanced screening for visitors from other countries beyond this ban. That has been getting some pushback from the travel industry. What can you tell us about that?
HORSLEY: Right. One piece of the president's executive order that was not blocked by the court calls for development of new vetting standards for all international visitors. And when it was reported last month that it could include questioning these visitors about their ideology or reviewing password-protected social media sites, there were some anxious moments for the U.S. travel industry. In fact, a trade group warned the President - don't do anything that looks like America's putting up - pulling up the welcome mat.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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