A little-noticed provision in President Trump’s revised restrictions on entry into the country could remake how the U.S. conducts foreign policy, creating leverage for a president who promised to bring his hard-nosed deal-making mind-set to American diplomacy.
In his new directive, Trump ordered a global review to determine whether citizens from additional countries should be blocked from coming to the U.S. as well. He asked the departments of State and Homeland Security, along with intelligence agencies, to determine which countries come up short on cooperating with U.S. immigration officials who are vetting travelers who want to enter the country.
"We're looking at an entire — at the rest of the entire world and all of the procedures that we use to address all countries," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday.
The review gives Trump, who spent his adult life working out real estate transactions, the opportunity to demand concessions from more than 190 countries. At stake is the ability of their citizens and nationals to travel to the United States.
For decades, the U.S. has welcomed a relatively free flow of travelers on the assumption that when people visit, they spend money, invest and learn about American culture and values and are able to take those impressions back to their home countries.
Negotiating over travel restrictions is risky, warned Stewart Baker, the former head of policy at Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration.
“We have leverage, but it is not leverage you really would want to use in a real way,” Baker said, adding that countries could begin blocking the entry of U.S. citizens. “It is like a nuclear exchange, and nobody comes off better in a nuclear exchange — everyone is weakened,” he said.
The Trump administration has already shown signs of being willing to horse-trade.
In exchange for excluding Iraq from the new travel restrictions, for example, the Trump administration persuaded officials there to accept Iraqi citizens deported from the United States, a demand U.S. diplomats have fruitlessly been making for years.
Iraq had its own room to maneuver to make the deal. When Trump issued the first version of the order in January, including Iraq among the countries whose citizens were banned from entry, Iraqi officials threatened to shut out hundreds of U.S. contractors in the country supporting the American military units and U.S. oil companies.
The threat of restrictions won’t be used to press countries on issues unrelated to national security, Spicer said, citing the Iraq negotiations as unique circumstances.
“This is a national security issue, plain and simple,” he said.
Trump promised during the campaign he would force countries to receive all of their citizens expelled from the U.S.
About 22 countries don’t accept deportations from the U.S., including Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Courts have ruled that people from those countries can’t be held indefinitely to await deportation, even if they have a violent criminal conviction. As a result, more than 8,000 immigrants with criminal records have been released from custody in the last three years.
But already the discussions are bleeding into other immigration issues. In addition to demanding countries take back citizens being deported, the Trump administration plans to look closely at countries with citizens who frequently stay past the expiration date on their U.S. visa, a senior Homeland Security official said Monday.
India, China and Mexico are among the top 10 countries that have high rates of people who overstay their visa. They are also among the top U.S. partners on trade and economic issues.
The temporary travel ban applies to six countries that are either state sponsors of terrorism — Iran, Syria and Sudan — or failed states that have terrorist organizations operating in their territory — Libya, Somalia and Yemen — administration officials said.
When considering other countries to add to the list, administration officials will look at the integrity of police forces and a country’s ability to give accurate criminal histories, what measures are in place to prevent people from traveling on fake documents, and which countries have high numbers of people who overstay their visas in the U.S., said the Homeland Security official, who would not be named under the ground rules the administration set for the briefing.
A list of countries that fail the test is due to be handed to Trump in early April, and countries have until late May to make changes.