Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly insisted Tuesday that President Donald Trump's executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the U.S. refugee program is not a ban on travel or on Muslims.
"This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims," Kelly said at a news briefing with other U.S. immigration officials, that comes amid protests and confusion around the world over the order and its effects as inhumane and contrary to long-standing American values.
Democrats and some Republicans have criticized the order and its rollout.
"Regrettably, the rollout was confusing, but on a go-forward basis, I'm confident that Secretary Kelly is going to make sure that this is done correctly," House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a separate news conference Tuesday.
Kelly characterized the order as a chance to revisit U.S. policy on visas and refugees. He also said that Customs and Border Patrol agents are in compliance with the law, after some reports suggested agents did not immediately comply with a court order that blocked part of the actions.
A senior U.S. official says 872 refugees will be allowed into the United States this week despite the executive order suspending the U.S. refugees program.
Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said these refugees would be granted waivers. He said that was allowed for under the order, in instances where refugees were ready for travel and stopping them would cause "undue hardship."
McAleenan said this was being done in concert with the State Department. He said 872 refugees will be arriving this week and will processed for waivers through the end of the week.
Kelly denied reports that he had been out of the loop in the White House planning for the immigration restrictions.
Kelly told reporters he looked at two drafts of the order before the Friday signing and that high-level government lawyers and agency officials were involved in drafting it. He also said he knew it was coming because Trump had long talked about it as a presidential candidate.
People who know Kelly, however, told The Associated Press that he was not aware of the details in the directive until around the time that Trump signed it.
Since Donald Trump was elected president, Democratic state attorneys general have been forming a coordinated wall of legal resistance over immigration, environmental protections, health care, and other major issues.
The state officials' plan for legal pushback has precedent: Several Republican attorneys general made it a practice to routinely file lawsuits against the policies of former President Barack Obama.
Unlike groups taking up fights on behalf of individuals, attorneys general —the chief lawyers for state governments — can sue more broadly on behalf of their states. Most are elected and thus can act independently of their state legislatures or governors.