By Josh Gerstein and Matthew Nussbaum
February 1, 2017
President Donald Trump's administration is reinterpreting its travel ban for residents of certain countries to now exempt legal permanent residents of the United States.
White House Counsel Don McGahn issued "guidance" on Wednesday clarifying that key parts of Trump's controversial executive order, which is aimed at citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, will no longer cover green card holders, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced Wednesday afternoon.
"They no longer need a waiver," Spicer told reporters during a daily briefing.
The changes to the travel ban comes after widespread controversy over the policy. The memo from the White House counsel appeared to be a way for the White House to redraft the executive order without incurring the embarrassment of actually having Trump sign a new executive order that eliminated the impact on green card holders.
More than 100 green-card holders were detained as they arrived at U.S. airports in the first day or so that Trump's order was in place. The detentions helped spark protests around the country. Lawmakers of both parties publicly criticized the order, particularly over its impact on longtime U.S. residents. Many on Capitol Hill said it was evidence that the directive had not been adequately vetted by career experts in the government.
Some judges also stepped into the fray, issuing orders blocking deportations or requiring release of travelers affected by Trump's orders.
McGahn's memo to the State, Homeland Security and Justice Departments acknowledges that the wording of the order Trump signed Friday was ambiguous.
"I understand that there has been reasonable uncertainty about whether those provisions apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States. Accordingly, to remove any confusion, I now clarify that Sections 3(c) and 3(e) do not apply to such individuals. Please immediately convey this interpretive guidance to all individuals responsible for the administration and implementation of the Executive Order," McGahn wrote.
Trump administration officials said this weekend that green-card holders delayed on Friday and Saturday were eventually given waivers to enter the U.S., but on Sunday night Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly announced he was granting a categorical waiver that covered green-card holders. Now, the White House appears to saying the entire waiver process wasn't necessary.
"Initially, as the program was lifting off the idea was that they would go through and be granted a waiver of which everyone was issued a waiver coming in.....That does not apply they no longer need a waiver," Spicer said.
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