Setting a hard-line tone on national security, President Donald Trump on Friday ordered "new vetting measures" to keep "radical Islamic terrorists" out of the United States.
Trump traveled to the Pentagon where he joined Defense Secretary James Mattis for the signing of an executive action to bring sweeping changes to the nation's refugee policies and put in motion his plans to build up the nation's military.
"We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas," he said. "We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people."
During his election campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump pledged to put in place "extreme vetting" procedures to screen people coming to the U.S. from countries with terrorism ties. The executive order suspends the U.S.'s refugee program for 120 days and singles out Syrian refugees as "detrimental to the interests of the United States," banning the issuance of visas to people from Syria until the president feels the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program's vetting process is strengthened.
Trump's order also suspends entry for 90 days of immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — all Muslim majority nations — and caps the number of refugees from other countries at 50,000 people in fiscal year 2017. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.
The order makes no mention of a plan to provide safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area. A draft of the order had directed the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in the war-torn Mideast nation.
The full text of the order, released Friday night, says the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may still decide to admit refugees if it would not "pose a risk to the security or welfare of the United States" and under certain conditions.
In an interview with CBN News, Trump said persecuted Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status. "We are going to help them," Trump said. "They've been horribly treated."
Applauded by some in his own party, Trump's refugee action was strongly criticized by some Democrats.
"Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded has been stomped upon," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Trump's order was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which brought to mind the global effort to help refugees during World War II and its aftermath.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the order and said it will file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Trump's "Muslin ban."
"There is no evidence that refugees – the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation – are a threat to national security," said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena F. Masri. "This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality."
Oxfam, the Boston-based global relief organization, also condemned the actions as harmful and discriminatory, and said it will deny safe refuge to thousands of people who need urgent help. Oxfam President Raymond Offenheiser says Trump is "slamming the door on innocent people in their hour of need" and breaking with more than 40 years of bipartisan U.S. policy and more than 200 years of American tradition.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed concern that Trump will go too far in his crackdown on immigration and urged the president in a post of the social media site to keep the U.S. borders open to refugees who need a safe haven.
"We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat," wrote Zuckerberg, whose grandparents immigrated from Europe, and whose inlaws were refugees from China and Vietnam.
Joined earlier in the day at the White House by British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump reaffirmed the United States' "special relationship" with Great Britain.
But he was also asked about a more contentious issue: his recent statements that torture "does work" in prying information out of terror suspects. Giving ground, he said his defense secretary's opposition would override his own belief. Hours later he stood at the Pentagon as retired Gen. James Mattis was sworn in as the military's chief.
Trump held firm on another controversy — trade and illegal immigration from Mexico. He told reporters at a joint news conference with May that he had a "very good call" with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier in the day, but he reaffirmed his belief that Mexico has "outnegotiated and beat us to a pulp" on trade — and that would change.
"We're no longer going to be the country that doesn't know what it's doing," he declared a day after the Mexican leader canceled his visit to Washington in response to Trump's plans to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it.
The flurry of national security moves and foreign policy outreach capped a hectic first week for Trump at the White House, giving Americans an initial look at how Trump intends to position the United States around the globe.