White House press secretary Sean Spicer isn’t a lawyer or an immigration wonk. That’s fine. No one is expecting him to be able to cite chapter and verse on, say, the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed President Trump to order on Friday that all immigrants and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim countries be banned from entering the US for 90 days and nearly all refugees be banned from resettling here for four months.
But he is expected to acknowledge that that is what the order does. Because it is.
Instead, Spicer, during a White House press briefing Tuesday, made explicit a line other administration officials have used implicitly: that the immigration order is just about screening travelers to the US, not about keeping people from living here.
“It's a vetting system to keep America safe,” Spicer said at the briefing.
'THIS IS NOT ABOUT REFUGEES; it is abt getting info abt travelers from certain countries where we don't get info we need'-#spicer— MissBek2 (@bekkassso) January 31, 2017
Spicer continues to insist "it's not a ban." Tough to blame media for getting it wrong, when Trump himself refers to "the ban." https://t.co/vpzsRxPSl6— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) January 31, 2017
The fact that Trump himself has called his ban a “ban” is relevant, sure. But it isn’t the point. The point is that the order Trump signed, and the policy that is currently in effect, bans tens thousands of people from coming to the US for months (many of whom would be coming to live here, temporarily or permanently), and bans some refugees, including Syrians and residents of other countries yet to be determined, indefinitely.
You do not have to take my word for this. Here is the text of the order, as it applies to nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (emphasis added for Spicer’s benefit):
I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).
That is not asking for “more information.” That is banning them from coming — for the next three months and, depending on whether the government keeps their countries blacklisted, for longer than that.
It applies to travelers, sure, but it also applies, explicitly, to people arriving as “immigrants” — a status the government only gives people it is allowing to settle indefinitely.
And here is the portion of the executive order that Spicer says “is not about refugees,” which is about refugees:
The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days [...] 120 days after the date of this order, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.
We already know that those countries will not include Syria:
I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
It sure is funny that a presidential order that isn’t about refugees would go out of its way to declare that Syrian refugees — one of the world’s largest, most in-need refugee populations — aren’t in the interest of the United States to admit, and to ban them indefinitely. But hey, what are you going to believe? The order that tells the US government what policies to implement, or what Sean Spicer tells the press?