Trump bans North Koreans from entering United States
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Trump bans North Koreans from entering United States

AMID heightened tensions with Pyongyang, United States President Donald Trump on Sunday slapped new travel restrictions on citizens from North Korea, adding to a list of countries banned from travelling to the US.

Previously dubbed a “Muslim ban”, Trump announced citizens of North Korea, as well as Venezuela and Chad would be excluded from travelling to the US, in addition to the earlier nationalities of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Restrictions on Sudanese citizens were lifted.

The measures help fulfill a campaign promise Trump made to tighten US immigration procedures and align with his “America First” foreign policy vision. Unlike the president’s original bans, which had time limits, this one is open-ended.

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Iraqi citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions, but will face enhanced scrutiny or vetting.

The current ban, enacted in March, was set to expire on Sunday evening. The new restrictions are slated to take effect on Oct 18 and resulted from a review after Trump’s original travel bans sparked international outrage and legal challenges.

The addition of North Korea and Venezuela broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list.

An administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, acknowledged that the number of North Koreans now travelling to the US was very low.

Rights group Amnesty International USA condemned the measures. “Just because the original ban was especially outrageous does not mean we should stand for yet another version of government-sanctioned discrimination,” it said in a statement.

“It is senseless and cruel to ban whole nationalities of people who are often fleeing the very same violence that the US government wishes to keep out. This must not be normalised.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement the addition of North Korea and Venezuela “doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban.”

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The White House portrayed the restrictions as consequences for countries that did not meet new requirements for vetting of immigrants and issuing of visas. Those requirements were shared in July with foreign governments, which had 50 days to make improvements if needed, the White House said.

A number of countries made improvements by enhancing the security of travel documents or the reporting of passports that were lost or stolen. Others did not, sparking the restrictions.

The announcement came as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on Oct 10 over the legality of Trump’s previous travel ban, including whether it discriminated against Muslims.

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Trump steps off of Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, on Sept 24, 2017. Source: Reuters/ Aaron P. Bernstein

Trump has threatened to “destroy” North Korea if it attacks the US or its allies. Pyongyang earlier this month conducted its most powerful nuclear bomb test. The president has also directed harsh criticism at Venezuela, once hinting at a potential military option to deal with Caracas.

But the officials described the addition of the two countries to Trump’s travel restrictions as the result of a purely objective review.

In the case of North Korea, where the suspension was sweeping and applied to both immigrants and non-immigrants, officials said it was hard for the United States to validate the identity of someone coming from North Korea or to find out if that person was a threat.

“North Korea, quite bluntly, does not cooperate whatsoever,” one official said.

Earlier this month, the US State Department put in place a ban on American citizens travelling to the rogue state after a university student named Otto Warmbier died after being held in detention by North Korea for months.

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Members of the People’s Security Council take part an anti-U.S. rally, in this September 23, 2017 photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. Source: KCNA via Reuters

The rollout on Sunday was decidedly more organised than Trump’s first stab at a travel ban, which was unveiled with little warning and sparked protests at airports worldwide.

Earlier on Sunday, Trump told reporters about the ban:

“The tougher, the better.”

Rather than a total ban on entry to the US, the proposed restrictions differ by nation, based on cooperation with American security mandates, the threat the US believes each country presents and other variables, officials said.

Somalis, for example, are barred from entering the US as immigrants and subjected to greater screening for visits.

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After the Sept 15 bombing attack on a London train, Trump tweeted that the new ban “should be far larger, tougher and more specific – but stupidly, that would not be politically correct.”

The expiring ban blocked entry into the US by people from the six countries for 90 days and locked out most aspiring refugees for 120 days to give Trump’s administration time to conduct a worldwide review of US vetting procedures for foreign visitors.

Critics have accused the Republican president of discriminating against Muslims in violation of constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and equal protection under the law, breaking existing US immigration law and stoking religious hatred.

Some federal courts blocked the ban, but the US Supreme Court allowed it to take effect in June with some restrictions.

Additional reporting by Reuters