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Trump’s immigration order lays out a way to turn the temporary ban into a permanent one

And to add more countries to the list.

A protest at O’Hare Airport in Chicago over President Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the US from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Max Herman/NurPhoto via Getty

The Trump administration is trying to argue that Friday’s executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US for three months and banning nearly all refugees from coming to the US for four months is “not a ban.”

But at the same time, the administration is acknowledging that the countries currently on the blacklist could remain there indefinitely — and that new countries could be added.

"Some of those countries that are currently on the list may not be taken off the list anytime soon," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told reporters on Tuesday.

The next 90 days will determine what the permanent blacklist looks like

The current blacklist is temporary — it’s supposed to last 90 days. But the executive order lays out a process — which, coincidentally, is also supposed to take about 90 days — for replacing the temporary blacklist with a permanent one.

  • In the next 30 days: The State Department and Department of Homeland Security conduct a review of all procedures for letting people into the US, and determine what information they will need to collect from everyone entering the US to prove an applicant “is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public safety threat.” The departments then submit a report to the White House listing all the information it will need from applicants, as well as the countries that don’t yet provide that information.
  • When the report is submitted: The secretary of state puts all countries that don’t yet provide all needed information about applicants on notice: They have 60 days to start complying, or they’ll get added to the ban list. (Some reports have indicated that new countries will be added within 60 days of the order; this step in the process appears to be what they’re talking about.)
  • 60 days after the report is submitted: Any countries that haven’t yet given the US all the information it wants will be added to the ban list.

It’s not yet clear what countries might be added to the blacklist at the end of the 90-day review-and-warning period — or even if all the currently blacklisted countries will stay on. That’s because the executive order is vague about how it actually wants to improve screening — it leaves it up to State and DHS to decide what information they’re going to require.

It’s possible these new standards would just be a fig leaf, not demanding much more information than the (often intense) US visa screening process already requires. On the other hand, it’s possible that the government could start requiring information that many countries around the world aren’t equipped to provide.

How expansive the list is will also depend on how consistent the Trump administration is in applying its standards — whether it actually bans any country that doesn’t provide it with all the necessary information, or just countries where it’s already concerned about terrorism (which would add even more fuel to the criticism that this is a ban on people from majority-Muslim countries coming to the United States). Even the NSEERS registry program under George W. Bush, while it included 24 majority-Muslim countries, also included North Korea.

As long as the White House sticks to the plan it laid out in the executive order, though, the permanent blacklist won’t be imposed nearly as suddenly as the temporary one was Friday night. That will make it a little easier for immigrants and visa holders (both in the US from blacklisted countries and those hoping to travel or move here) to know what’s coming. The real beneficiary, though, would be the government itself — which will be able to impose a travel ban smoothly, and hide the disruption it’s causing from people in the US.