The president also temporarily suspended immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries and gave preference to Christians from abroad.

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WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday closed the nation’s borders to refugees from around the world, ordering that families fleeing Syrian carnage be indefinitely blocked from entering the United States, and temporarily suspending immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.

Declaring the measure part of an extreme vetting plan to “keep radical Islamic terrorists” out of the country, Trump also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.

“We don’t want them here,” Trump said of Islamic terrorists during a signing ceremony at the Pentagon. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”

The order was signed on Trump’s most robust day of national-security and foreign policy at the start of his presidency, marked by a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and a lengthy phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

More on travel ban

 

At a joint news conference with May, Trump reaffirmed the United States’ “special relationship” with Great Britain. And May said the president had privately expressed his support for NATO, despite past comments disparaging the alliance as “obsolete.” “Mr. President,” she said, “I think you said, you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO.”

Also Friday, Trump told an interviewer for the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians in Syria were “horribly treated” and alleged that under previous administrations, “if you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

Trump order up close

A closer look at President Trump’s executive order:

Syria: The order directs the State Department to stop issuing visas to Syrian nationals and halts the processing of Syrian refugees. That will remain in effect until Trump determines enough security changes have been made to ensure would-be terrorists can’t exploit weaknesses in the current vetting system.

Refugees: Trump ordered a four-month suspension to the nation’s broader refugee program. The suspension is intended to provide time to review how refugees are vetted before they are allowed to resettle in the U.S. The order also cuts the number of refugees the U.S. plans to accept this budget year by more than half, to 50,000 people from around the world. In the last budget year, the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Obama had set the current refugee limit at 110,000.

Extreme vetting: The order did not spell out what additional steps Trump wants to see the Homeland Security and State departments take to add to the country’s vetting system for refugees. Instead, he directed officials to review the refugee application and approval process to find any other security measures that could be added to prevent people who pose a threat from using the refugee program.

Other immigration: The order suspends all immigration from countries with terrorism concerns for 90 days. It was unclear from the law cited in the order which countries would be affected, though a draft of the order pointed to a legal provision that identified Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, all majority-Muslim countries, for at least 30 days. The order also calls for Homeland Security and State Department officials, along with the director of national intelligence, to review what information the government needs to fully vet would-be visitors and come up with a list of countries that don’t provide it. The order says the government will give countries 60 days to start providing the information or citizens from those countries would be barred from traveling to the United States.

The Associated Press

In fact, the U.S. accepts tens of thousands of Christian refugees. According to the Pew Research Center, almost as many Christian refugees (37,521) were admitted as Muslim refugees (38,901) in the 2016 fiscal year.

The executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days and directs officials to determine additional screening “to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

The order also stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars entry into the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those countries are: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Additionally, Trump signed a memorandum Friday directing what he called “a great rebuilding of the armed services,” saying it would call for budget negotiations to acquire new planes, new ships and new resources for the nation’s military.

“Our military strength will be questioned by no one, but neither will our dedication to peace,” Trump said.

Announcing his “extreme vetting” plan, the president invoked the specter of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries is on Trump’s visa-ban list.

Human-rights activists condemned Trump’s actions, describing them as officially sanctioned religious persecution dressed up to look like an effort to make the United States safer.

The International Rescue Committee called it “harmful and hasty.” The American Civil Liberties Union described it as a “euphemism for discriminating against Muslims.” Raymond Offensheiser, president of Oxfam America, said the order will harm families around the world who are threatened by authoritarian governments.

“The refugees impacted by today’s decision are among the world’s most vulnerable people — women, children and men — who are simply trying to find a safe place to live after fleeing unfathomable violence and loss,” Offensheiser said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said it would file a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.

“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena F. Masri. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

Trump also signed a presidential memorandum on “rebuilding” the U.S. armed forces, giving Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis 30 days to conduct a “readiness” review and report back on steps that can be taken this year to improve conditions.

The president signed the executive order shortly after issuing a statement noting that Friday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an irony that many of his critics highlighted on Twitter.

Trump’s actions came during a swearing-in ceremony for Mattis, a former Marine general. Standing in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, Trump hailed the members of the U.S. military as “the backbone of this country” and described Mattis as a “man of action.” The president mistakenly referred to Mattis as a “soldier,” a term abhorred by Marines.

Trump has been deferential to Mattis, who has quickly established himself as a top aide whose advice the president is willing to take. Trump said Friday he would let Mattis “override” him by banning torture during terrorism interrogations even though Trump believes torture works in getting information from suspects.

In a remarkable show of deference to his own subordinate, Trump said during the earlier news conference with May, the British prime minister, that he would let Mattis decide about whether to use torture in interrogations. Mattis has said he does not believe torture is effective.

“I don’t necessarily agree, but I will tell you that he will override because I’m giving him that power,” Trump said. “I’m going to rely on him. I happen to feel that it does work.”

Trump held firm Friday on another controversy — trade and illegal immigration from Mexico. He said at the joint news conference with May that he had a “very good call” with Peña Nieto earlier in the day, but he reaffirmed his belief that Mexico has “outnegotiated and beat us to a pulp” on trade — and that would change.

“We’re no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing,” he said a day after the Mexican leader canceled his visit to Washington, D.C., in response to Trump’s plans to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it.

Trump and Peña Nieto said they both agreed to proceed with negotiations on a range of bilateral issues after their hourlong phone call. There was no suggestion the conversation had resolved their disagreement over fundamental issues, most notably the payment for construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico.

A statement from Peña Nieto’s office said both presidents “agreed for now not to speak publicly about this controversial issue,” referring to the wall. The White House issued an almost identical statement, calling it “a joint statement.” But it differed in one key respect: It did not include any mention of an agreement to refrain from speaking publicly about the wall or its financing.

On another international issue, Trump is expected on Saturday to speak by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the news conference with May, he was asked if he was considering lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia. But Trump was noncommittal, saying, “We’ll see what happens. As far as the sanctions, very early to be talking about that.”

Obama’s administration and the European Union slapped Moscow with sanctions for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for a pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Relations have plunged to post-Cold War lows over Ukraine, Putin’s backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad and allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

May, for her part, said the United Kingdom supports continuing the sanctions for now.