Updated Feb. 16, 2017 7:32 p.m. ET
The move came as Mr. Trump said he would issue a new order next week. The developments provided the most definitive indications yet that the Trump administration would undertake a considerable rewrite of its Jan. 27 order in light of adverse court rulings, instead of pressing ahead with its current legal defense and attempting small changes at the margins.
The White House was in effect acknowledging that a reset is its best option to get a ban in place quickly. The administration hasn’t signaled how it will revise the order, but the new version is certain to trigger another series of lawsuits as challengers test whether it is any more acceptable to the courts than the previous one.
The original order suspended entry to the U.S. for visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—for at least 90 days, froze the entire U.S. refugee program for four months and indefinitely banned refugees from Syria. The president said the order was needed to keep terrorists from entering the U.S.
Mr. Trump has also reduced the total number of refugees the U.S. will admit this year to 55,000—down from 110,000 set by the previous administration—and the State Department is warning its embassies that the U.S. is already approaching the revised cap. In a directive sent this week, embassies were told to slow resettlement of refugees for the next few weeks and then to suspend it after March 3.
The president has unilateral authority to set the annual refugee cap, and that part of his executive order isn’t affected by legal action.
Mr. Trump’s executive executive order caused confusion among travelers and initial chaos at airports, prompting more than 20 lawsuits. Challengers argue that the order violated individual rights and wasn’t justified by a new national-security threat.
One judge in Boston sided with the president. Multiple other courts have ruled against Mr. Trump and placed the executive order on hold, notably the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit , based in San Francisco. Mr. Trump hasn’t hesitated to attack the judiciary for the rulings, and he did so again Thursday in a press conference.
“The court system has not made it easy for us,” he said. “Our administration is working night and day to keep you safe.”
The Ninth Circuit last week found the order likely violated constitutional guarantees of due process, while a federal judge in Virginia this week said it likely violated constitutional protections against religious discrimination.
Mr. Trump said in his press conference that the new order could achieve many of the same goals as the initial measure while taking the Ninth Circuit’s objections into account. “The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision,” he said.
The administration gave no details of the new order, but objections specified by the courts suggest areas Mr. Trump could rewrite. The White House attempted to clarify the initial order saying it didn’t apply to legal permanent residents of the U.S., for example, but some courts have declined to credit that clarification; it’s possible Mr. Trump could resolve that issue more formally.
The Ninth Circuit judges said the executive order didn’t provide notice or a hearing prior to restricting individuals’ ability to travel, raising due process questions. The court went so far as to suggest the Trump administration could address those concerns if it rewrote the order.
It is less clear whether Mr. Trump’s new order will attempt to address complaints that the order discriminates against Muslims. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Virginia made that the central focus of her ruling against the president this week, but the White House strongly denies any discrimination.
At his press conference, Mr. Trump addressed concerns that the order had been hasty by saying he had wanted to delay it for a month, in which case “everything would have been perfect.” But Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly warned him that “bad people” would enter in the interim, he said.
The Justice Department’s court filing Thursday said officially for the first time that the president would rescind his initial order. Following the Ninth Circuit ruling last week, by a three-judge panel, an unnamed judge on the court asked colleagues to vote on whether to reconsider the case before a larger group of judges.
The Justice Department said Thursday that wasn’t necessary in light of plans for a new order. “Rather than continuing this litigation, the president intends in the near future to rescind the order and replace it with a new, substantially revised executive order to eliminate what the panel erroneously thought were constitutional concerns,” the department wrote.
The Justice Department also urged the Ninth Circuit to toss out last week’s opinion once the president issues his new order; the Trump administration would like that precedent wiped out, while challengers would like it to remain on the books.
All the litigation so far on the order has been preliminary, focusing on whether it should be suspended while legal challenges continue to its underlying legality. Still, in suspending the order, judges have found the challengers have a likelihood of ultimately succeeding on the merits.
The immigration issue continued to swirl around the White House in other ways. Mr. Trump on Thursday talked up his administration’s work to deport more people who are in the U.S. illegally and said he had ordered a “crackdown” on so-called sanctuary cities that don’t turn over illegal immigrants sought by federal officers.
“We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety,” Mr. Trump said.
As he spoke, the acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Thomas Homan , was on Capitol Hill to provide a closed-door briefing to lawmakers on the administration’s approach, particularly a five-day enforcement “surge” in at least six states last week.
Agitated Democrats demanded details of the new Trump policy, and afterward, lawmakers of both parties said that Mr. Homan made clear that ICE officers seek to target criminal offenders but will arrest others here illegally if they encounter them.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D., N.M.) said she asked who is at risk of deportation under the current rules and was told, “Everyone who is here in this country without legal status.”
“They said that we can and should expect many more arrests and removals this year,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D., Calif.), another participant.
The briefing included Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, but most members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were excluded. Mr. Homan had originally planned to meet with caucus members at their request, but that meeting was canceled and the bipartisan session held in its place.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said the Trump administration asked that the session be limited to members of Congress with “jurisdictional interests” in immigration enforcement, such as leaders of relevant committees and subcommittees. Members of the Hispanic caucus tried to enter the room but were removed.
Aruna Viswanatha and Maria Abi-Habib contributed to this article.
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