MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Today the Trump administration announced it is adding six countries in Africa and Asia to its travel ban - this in the same week that marks three years since the administration threw airports around the country into disarray with its first travel ban. That executive order blocked visitors and immigrants from several majority Muslim countries. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: OK, so which six countries are we talking about?
ROSE: Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Eritrea - all in Africa - also Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and Myanmar, also known as Burma, in Southeast Asia. And unlike the very first travel ban, there are a lot of exceptions to this latest expansion. Refugees are exempt, for example. Students, tourists, guest workers - all also exempt. This expansion only applies to people who are seeking visas to reside in the U.S. permanently.
KELLY: And why? Why does the Trump administration want to add these countries to the list?
ROSE: Well, Homeland Security officials were asked about that today on a conference call with reporters. In general, they say it is because these countries failed to comply with U.S. security requirements for passports and other documents and also with information-sharing requirements. For instance, officials said Nigeria is not sharing enough information with U.S. officials and with Interpol about potential terrorists and criminals. Officials said these countries could get off the list if they improve on those policies and procedures.
KELLY: Joel, I noted that that first travel ban led to all kinds of chaos at airports. Do we expect chaos this time around? What's expected to happen?
ROSE: I expect it will be much more orderly than with that original travel ban. Remember, three years ago, that order was signed late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the day. Nobody, including border officials, had very much time to prepare for it. This version is being rolled out more carefully. It's not set to take effect for three weeks, and Homeland Security officials say anyone who already has been approved for a visa will be allowed into the U.S. Those officials also tried to downplay the effect of this latest expansion. They estimated that fewer than 13,000 immigrants a year would be directly affected by it.
KELLY: What about legal challenges? The Supreme Court ultimately upheld a version of the earlier travel ban, but are we watching for immigrant advocate groups to challenge this?
ROSE: I expect that they're going to try. I mean, critics are really upset that the administration is doubling down on what they call the Muslim ban. They fear that thousands of families who are in the process of immigrating here will be separated because of this. Here's Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. She is a Democrat from Houston, Texas, a congresswoman who represents one of the biggest Nigerian-born populations in the U.S. She's also a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and she's angry that African countries seem to be targeted disproportionately.
SHEILA JACKSON LEE: It is pure discrimination and racism, and it has no basis in the security of this nation, domestic security or international security. And I look forward to fighting it every manner that we would fight it.
ROSE: But that fight faces an uphill battle. I mean, the Supreme Court, as you said, upheld an earlier version of the travel ban, and the court seems inclined to give wide latitude to the White House when it comes to issues of immigration.
KELLY: Just one more question, and it has to do with timing and that - we're marking the three-year anniversary of the first travel ban this week. Do we know if this new announcement was timed to that in any way?
ROSE: Well, I asked Homeland Security officials about that on the conference call, and they said that this is just when the DHS security review of these countries happened to reach its conclusion. But the Trump administration's critics say it would appear that politics plays a role in the timing, right? The original travel ban, I should say, is very popular in many corners, particularly with Republican voters. And the president is set to give his final State of the Union address before he faces re-election. Hardline immigration policies like this one are a big part of the record that he's going to be running on.
KELLY: Thank you, Joel.
ROSE: You're welcome.
KELLY: NPR's Joel Rose. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.