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Trump Administration Considers Replacing Travel Ban


The Trump administration is weighing new restrictions to replace the controversial travel ban that's been in and out of court since January. That temporary ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries is set to expire tomorrow. Homeland Security officials recommend replacing it with what they call more targeted travel restrictions. Some of the travel ban's critics see that as progress, others aren't so sure, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The original travel ban caused chaos at U.S. airports before it was blocked by the courts. The Supreme Court eventually allowed the ban to take effect - mostly - until it can hear the case. That was almost 90 days ago. Now the temporary travel ban is set to expire, and the Department of Homeland Security has been working on what comes next.

MILES TAYLOR: We need to know who is coming into our country. We should be able to validate their identities.

ROSE: Miles Taylor is an aide to the acting secretary of Homeland Security. On a conference call with reporters yesterday, Taylor said DHS is proposing new travel restrictions that are tough and tailored. Taylor didn't reveal what those new restrictions would be or which countries will be affected, but Taylor was clear about this - the list is based, in part, on whether countries have passports that are difficult to counterfeit and whether those countries willingly share information about travelers with the U.S.

TAYLOR: The goal here is not to indefinitely block certain nationals from coming to the United States. The goal is to protect Americans until foreign governments do comply with our standards.

ROSE: Taylor says the administration has been making a list of countries it considered inadequate - he wouldn't say how many - and warned them that they could face new travel restrictions if they don't improve. And Taylor says some countries have gotten better and now they're off the list. Even critics of the original travel ban say that sounds like an improvement.

MICHAEL O'HANLON: There is now, apparently, a path by which one can get off the list. And I think that's a crucial distinction.

ROSE: Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank in Washington. He argues these rules, like the original travel ban, are unnecessary because U.S. vetting was working fine. But O'Hanlon thinks this new set of rules seems more reasonable than the previous set.

O'HANLON: It's sort of hardnosed and tough, but I can't necessarily claim it's unfair or illegal. So I would say it's progress from first blush.

BECCA HELLER: They can call it whatever they want. A rose by any other name is still a Muslim ban.

ROSE: Becca Heller directs the International Refugee Assistance Project. It's one of several organizations that have taken the administration to court over the original travel ban from January and the revised version the White House announced in March. Heller suspects that these new travel restrictions are just another attempt to achieve the Muslim ban that candidate Trump called for on the campaign trail.

HELLER: I would hope that by the third try they were better at describing it in a way that wasn't blatantly unconstitutional, but I don't think that that says anything about whether or not the substance itself complies with the law.

ROSE: Heller's group is one of the plaintiffs in a travel ban case that's set to be argued before the Supreme Court in October. The administration could argue that the case is moot since these rules have basically replaced the travel ban, but Heller disagrees. She says you can't separate this new set of travel restrictions from the executive order that led to them.

HELLER: It's a pretty clear indication that there's still a live case or controversy and that the Supreme Court has a decision they have to make.

ROSE: First, the White House has to decide whether to accept Homeland Security's recommendations. Administration officials say that's when they'll say which countries are on the list and what travel restrictions they're facing. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.