Trump weighs plan to expand controversial ban on travel to U.S.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is reviewing a Homeland Security Department recommendation that he expand one of the most controversial policies of his administration by banning people from an additional seven countries from traveling to the U.S.

The department suggested the White House expand the travel restrictions to Tanzania, Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Sudan, according to a person familiar with the review who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The administration’s first travel ban, enacted soon after Trump took office, targeted countries with large Muslim populations, sparking widespread outrage from Democrats and immigration activists. The Supreme Court upheld a revised version of the ban in June 2018.

An expanded ban would likely ignite new protests over what opponents earlier described as a “Muslim ban” because five of the countries on the new list have substantial Muslim populations. The White House is weighing the proposal ahead of November elections as Trump seeks to make immigration a focus of his campaign.

Spokesmen for Homeland Security and the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the specific possible additions. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley defended the travel ban as “profoundly successful in protecting our country and raising the security baseline around the world.”

“While there are no new announcements at this time, common sense and national security both dictate that if a country wants to fully participate in U.S. immigration programs, they should also comply with all security and counterterrorism measures,” Gidley said. “We do not want to import terrorism or any other national security threat into the United States.”

The first version of the ban triggered airport chaos and came after the president said repeatedly during the 2016 campaign that he wanted to bar all Muslims from entering the country. Judges quickly blocked that version, but subsequent changes made the policy more palatable to the courts. Trump has argued the ban on visas for some majority-Muslim countries is a necessary security measure.

The additions to the list were prepared for the White House as part of a worldwide assessment the president mandated that the administration undertake every six months under his executive order mandating the travel ban.

Countries will probably be given an opportunity to improve security measures such as biometrics, information-sharing and counterterrorism precautions to avoid ultimate inclusion on the list, the person said. The president hasn’t specified whether he’ll add all of the countries recommended by Homeland Security.

“We’re adding a couple of countries to it,” Trump told reporters this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe. You see what’s going on in the world. Our country has to be safe. So we have a very strong travel ban, and we’ll be adding a few countries to it.”

Already, visas from five Muslim-majority nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — as well as North Korea and some from Venezuela have been suspended, meaning about 150 million people can’t enter the U.S.

The administration removed Chad from the list, crediting the country’s improvement in identity-management and information-sharing practices.

The administration revised the policy two times before settling on a version that the Supreme Court upheld in a June 2018 ruling.

A divided court rejected contentions that Trump targeted Muslims and gave him a legal and political victory on a controversy that helped define his presidency.

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