WASHINGTON — A far larger number of people were affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees than he initially said, Department of Homeland Security officials acknowledged Tuesday.
Trump posted on Twitter that only 109 people were detained or denied entry into the United States after his order, but during a news briefing at the Customs and Border Protection agency’s headquarters Tuesday, officials said that 721 people had been denied boarding for the United States after it began enforcing the travel ban. The agency said it processed waivers for 1,060 green card holders, as well as an additional 75 waivers for immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa holders.
Homeland Security officials said the White House was referring to the number of people who were either detained or denied boarding during the initial hours after the travel ban was signed, a total based on preliminary calculations.
The officials also disclosed that 872 refugees were granted waivers to enter the country, despite Trump’s executive order freezing resettlement. Customs officials said the waivers were granted because the refugees were “ready to travel.” They had already been vetted by the government, they said.
John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, said that Trump’s order did not amount to a “travel ban,” adding, “This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system.”
But Kelly also confirmed that, while he saw versions of the executive order, he did not see the final order before it was signed by the president.
He said that executives at Homeland Security were involved in writing the order, but added that the knowledge of it and its distribution was limited. Kelly said that he had known that the order was coming for some time, but that he was not involved personally in the process to the degree to which he “corrected grammar or say we needed to change things.”
The New York Times reported Monday that Kelly was on a conference call about the order when it was signed Friday and was given his first full briefing about its contents later that day.
Trump’s order initially created chaos and confusion at airports around the world. Passengers, many of them with green cards that allow them to live and work in the United States, were barred from flights into the country. A number of people with visas were suddenly unsure if they would be allowed into the United States, and many were stopped when they arrived.
Neither Homeland Security nor related agencies posted any information on their websites or social media accounts informing the public about Trump’s travel ban until Sunday.
Immigration proponents and lawyers representing people stuck at airports because of the ban say they were unable to speak to anyone at Customs and Border Protection or at the headquarters of Homeland Security.
The first briefing on the order by Homeland Security officials for the news media was at 9 p.m. Saturday, long after news reports raised questions about the effects of the order and after thousands of people had lined the sidewalks and terminals of international airports to protest the ban.
During the Tuesday briefing with the news media, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin K. McAleenan, rejected criticism of the agency’s efforts to enforce the order.
“We worked quickly to implement, and I think the process has really smoothed out,” he said.
Kelly also insisted that there was no chaos. “Our officers who are at the counters, so to speak, the only chaos they saw was what was taking place in other parts of the airport,” he said.
Despite the ban on travelers from the seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — Kelly insisted that the country remained open to visitors despite their religious beliefs.
“The vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims that live on this planet, the vast majority of them have, all other things being equal, have access to the United States,” Kelly said.