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Trump White House Releases Revised Temporary Travel Ban


President Trump has signed a revised executive order on immigration. And here's what's different about this revision. Iraq is no longer on the list of countries subject to the temporary travel ban, and refugees from Syria will no longer face an indefinite suspension of entry to the United States. Still, all refugees from anywhere will be barred from coming to America for 120 days.

We're going to hear now from a former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Jayson Ahern is now an adviser with The Chertoff Group, which is a consulting company focusing on security issues. Thanks so much for being with us.

JAYSON AHERN: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: The premise of the president's temporary travel ban is that the vetting of travelers and refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries isn't good enough. There are too many holes, needs to be improved. What is your sense of what those systems are like?

AHERN: Well, I think it's clear that when you take a look at U.S. government, you know, it really needs to make sure that people coming from those six countries will not harm the American people. And I think when you take a look at - these are several countries that are involved with state-sponsored terror or that the security conditions are so poor they can't even control their own borders.

So I think it's a very prudent action for the U.S. government to go ahead and do a review over the next 90 days of what the standards are and make sure as far as that they're going to be adequate to make sure that people coming from those countries potentially could not come here and engage in terror activity.

MARTIN: The six nations are identified as posing the greatest threat of introducing terrorists to the U.S. Do you think that's the right list? I mean, Iraq's now off. If you were to have drawn up the list, which countries would you have on it?

AHERN: Well, I think this certainly is correct. It'd be hard for me to second-guess. These were decisions made previously, actually, by Congress and the Obama administration, designating these countries. And I think it was done after a careful study and a lot of detail in looking at a lot of the different terror activity that does happen.

MARTIN: And we should just point out the Trump administration points to that a lot - that these countries were identified by the previous administration. But there was no travel ban associated with that identification.

AHERN: That is correct. But I think, clearly, the point is that these countries have been engaged for a significant period of time with terror activity, sponsoring terror activity and also as far as just having poor border controls and not having good vetting standards for people that are trying to go ahead and obtain visas for the United States. While that is done by our U.S. State Department, Consular Affairs, it's very important when you're doing vetting of individuals coming to the United States, that you engage with host-country intelligence systems and border systems to be able to try to gain as much information, to get a full 360 view on what that person's history is before they actually go ahead and get a visa to travel to the United States.

So that's an important component that I believe, to this point, has been lacking. And it's a very prudent measure for our administration currently to go ahead and take a look at what additional measures need to be done, similar to like we saw with Iraq. And obviously after the review, with Iraq coming off the list, when you take a look at the strong diplomatic relationship that we have, a presence there with our diplomats, our U.S. forces and the systems that seem to be in place to be able to provide additional information on people traveling from Iraq, it shows as far as the use of discretion in a prudent manner in the way this is being approached.

MARTIN: But, you know, some of these countries - Libya, Somalia - I mean, these are places that even the administration has identified as failed states that just don't even have appropriate infrastructure to...

AHERN: Right.

MARTIN: ...Implement proper vetting. So what changes after 90 days? I mean, the Trump administration isn't exactly a fan of nation-building. They're not going to go in and give them a bunch of foreign aid. So how do you build up the capacity for those countries to ever get off the list?

AHERN: Well, I think it's unlikely that some of these countries will get off the list in the next 90 days. It's my personal opinion, and I have no official information to support this. But it's very unlikely they're going to be able to come up with remarkable standards that will show improvement over the next 90 days. I think what will be important is for the administration to go ahead and help, whether it be through capacity-building, helping them develop the border systems, helping them border - helping them actually establish intelligence systems capable of providing vetting information for people before they actually applied for visas to the United States.

But I think, you know, those things can take time. But they do need to begin somewhere. But I'm in doubt - it's doubtful that'll happen in the next 90 days. But that's just a personal (unintelligible) position.

MARTIN: There's a lot of debate about where the most significant terrorist threats come from. Do they come from abroad, people trying to get into our country for nefarious reasons, or do they come from longtime residents of the U.S. and U.S. citizens even who are radicalized here at home? What is your view on that?

AHERN: Well, I think the threat of terror obviously is very real when we see some of the events that have actually happened here in the United States and outside the country. We clearly need to make sure that we're doing a better job as far as vetting people coming into the country.

And certainly, the FBI is very active in their investigations of people who might have ties to terrorists or been radicalized here in the United States. It's a full-court press by all the law enforcement and intelligence agencies here in the United States, and their global reach is really supporting this effort as well. But it's a very significant concern that obviously - that is facing the country today.

MARTIN: What needs to happen before the travel ban, particularly as it concerns refugees after 120 days - what needs to happen before that's restored?

AHERN: Well, the refugee program - I think the concerning thing with that, obviously, is you have individuals who are looking to go ahead and flee very sad situations, and that's a prudent thing. In the country here, it's always been important for people seeking asylum or for safe havens. But I think the important piece is, you know, it's been reported that the FBI has over 300 people that actually have been - are being investigated for potential engagement or involvement in terror activity. So there has to be that conscious oversight of those individuals as well.

MARTIN: Jay Ahern is an adviser on border and homeland security with The Chertoff Group. Thank you so much.

AHERN: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELODIUM PIECE, "AUGUSTA FALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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