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Trump claims his immigration ban is 'not about religion,’ even as order favors Christians

President Donald Trump strongly defended his move to impose a travel ban on seven largely Muslim countries, saying that that while America was "a proud nation" of immigrants, his order was strictly about national security and not religion.

As numerous foreign citizens were detained at airports around the globe, triggering spontaneous protests, part of Trump's executive order was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in New York.

Barely a week after his inauguration, Trump moved to bar the travelers for at least 90 days, while declaring it would impose "extreme vetting" on those wishing to enter the country.

Responding to the worldwide backlash and disarray, the president invoked the country's historic status as a harbor for immigrants as a reason for his decision.

"America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

His public statement came as administration officials doubled down on the president's decision, fanning out across Sunday talk shows to defend Trump's travel restrictions.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC the U.S. would "protect our country and our people," while Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told NBC's "Meet the Press" the administration had no apologies.

Trump said the travel restrictions were similar to a six-month ban by the Obama administration on visas from Iraq in 2011. In addition to Iraq, the other countries in his executive order are Iran, Libya, Somali, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

All of those countries are currently roiled by active terror elements such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, yet few of them were involved in hundreds of domestic jihadi plots since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. In his executive order, Trump invoked 9/11 several times as a rationale behind his move.

Nevertheless, Trump argued his executive order was not against Islam, but against terrorism.

"This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe," Trump declared. "There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order."

In a subsequent tweet, Trump said he would be interviewed at 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on TheBrodyFile.


The controversy drew criticism from within Trump's own party, as two senior GOP lawmakers denounced the executive order as "a self-inflicted wound."

The humanitarian crisis stemming from the conflict in Syria has sent millions of refugees fleeing the country since 2011.

Trump said visa issuance would begin anew "once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering."

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Security Secretary John Kelly subsequently issued a statement that suggested flexibility in cases where traveler had residency status in the U.S.

"In applying the provisions of the president's executive order, I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest," the statement from Kelly said.

"Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations."

On Twitter, Trump responded to criticism by Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, urging them to focus on the threat posed by Islamic State.

This story was updated with a tweet from President Donald Trump on a planned television interview.