Trump administration officials are developing stronger procedures to vet individuals entering the U.S. in light of the Supreme Court's move to lift parts of a legal block on President Trump's so-called "travel ban," homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Friday.
"There's a number of efforts ongoing to implement the president's executive order, especially now that it is been freed from legal constraint by the Supreme Court," Bossert told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday. "Of course, we're improving — constantly, regularly — our policies and our capabilities to better vet people seeking entry into the United States. And that's ongoing."
The Supreme Court decided on June 26 that it would hear the case against Trump's travel ban and partially allow his order to take effect until it rendered a decision. The move permitted the administration to block nationals from six Middle Eastern countries covered under the executive order so long as those individuals did not have close family relationships with U.S. citizens.
Bossert said the administration is "unapologetic" about its efforts to strengthen vetting procedures.
Critics have accused Trump of attempting to fulfill his campaign promise to prevent all Muslims from entering the country by shrouding a Muslim ban under the guise of a national security initiative.
But the White House has consistently argued that the executive order has no basis in religion and that it instead singled out the six majority-Muslim countries for travel restrictions because those countries have terror problems and struggle to maintain and provide documentation for their travelers.
"It's less about countries and more about the ability for people to demonstrate the paperwork and background information that we need to appropriately demonstrate that they have or don't have a security past that would concern us," Bossert explained. "So [there have been] no additional conversations about countries, but conversations about people's background and whether they represent a security threat."
A federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday placed additional constraints on Trump's travel ban as the administration works to implement it in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision. The judge ruled that the executive order could not keep out individuals from the specified countries who have grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles or in-laws in the U.S. who are American citizens. Under the Supreme Court's definition, exemptions to the travel ban applied only to those seeking entry to the U.S. with immediate family members who are citizens.
Bossert said the administration would review the Hawaii judge's ruling and determine how to proceed, but noted his preliminary impression of the decision was that the judge had misinterpreted the Supreme Court's intentions.
"I don't know if we have a formal administration response to that, but I will offer that I do have concerns with the early reporting," Bossert said, acknowledging that he had not read the entire court ruling.
"So I would say that, as it was reported to me, it seemed to be fairly broad and something that would trouble me if it was as broad as reported. In terms of a connection with any group, any refugee organization, it might be read, if the early reports that I looked at were accurate, as something so expansive as to cover every refugee. And that certainly couldn't be the interpretation the Supreme Court intended," Bossert said. "So we'll have to go back and have the attorneys read it, interpret it further, and decide whether this is another productive or unproductive step in this saga as we try to secure our country."