President Donald Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred visitors from Syria and some other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
Civil rights groups condemned the measures as discriminatory.
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said earlier on Friday at the Pentagon.
“We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.
The order suspends the Syrian refugee program until further notice, and will eventually give priority to minority religious groups fleeing persecution. Trump said in an interview with a Christian news outlet the exception would help Syrian Christians fleeing the civil war there.
His order had been expected to include a directive about setting up “safe zones” for Syrian refugees inside the country, but no such language was included.
The measure limits entry for at least 90 days from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries, but did not list the countries by name.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association said it would ban entry from nationals of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Trump had promised the measures – called “extreme vetting” – during last year’s election campaign, saying they would prevent militants from entering the United States from abroad.
The move was immediately condemned by Democrats, civil rights groups and aid groups such as Oxfam and others.
“President Trump has cloaked what is a discriminatory ban against nationals of Muslim countries under the banner of national security,” said Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Chen said the order will “severely cripple” the U.S. refugee program, leaving desperate people in danger.
“This policy does not make us safer. It shows weakness and withdraws our nation from the position as global leader when so many refugees urgently need protection,” Chen said.