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Travel Ban Caught Homeland Security by Surprise, Report Concludes

That includes John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary at the time, who could not say for sure that he was shown a draft of the executive order before it was signed. Mr. Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, told investigators that he believed he saw draft copies of the ban and discussed it with a member of Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team, as well as with Ms. Nielsen.

Joseph B. Maher, the department’s acting general counsel, told investigators that he saw a draft of the order an hour before it was signed and had no role in helping to craft it. The report issued on Friday said Mr. Kelly and Mr. Maher appear to be the only people at the department who saw the travel ban before it was signed.

The draft order was never sent to Customs and Border Protection, the agency that had to enforce the ban at airports. The inspector general’s office found that Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting commissioner of the customs agency, received the most details about the order’s contents from congressional staffers who “were better informed.”

The report also concluded that although the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel reviewed the draft executive order, it failed to analyze the rights of legal permanent residents, who were left in limbo while customs officials scrambled to determine if they could re-enter the United States.

Homeland Security officials begin enforcing the travel ban even before they had a signed copy of the president’s executive order, the report found. And email correspondence that was provided to internal investigators portrayed the department’s leaders as frantically trying to understand the executive order, and which passengers were affected by it.

Guidance was later issued to customs officers in the field, who “reacted with shock and confusion,” the report found.

However, the inspector general’s investigators did not find examples of widespread abuses by customs officers, as portrayed on social media as travelers were detained or denied entry.

The exception was at foreign airports, where customs officers continued to tell airlines not to board some passengers bound for the United States even after courts had blocked the travel ban.

In a strenuously-worded response, the department said it does not believe the officers’ conduct violated the court orders. “Any implication or statement to the contrary is unfortunate and misleading,” the agency said in its reply to the report.

The inspector general’s office said it stood by its findings.

It said internal investigators also reviewed claims that passengers were pressured into signing forms to withdraw their applications to enter the United States, and that they were detained for an excessive amount of time.

Investigators said they could not substantiate the allegations of people being asked to withdraw their applications. They attributed the long detentions to officials’ inability to develop policies and procedures before the travel ban was issued, as well as confusion over how to enforce it after the court orders and constantly changing guidance from headquarters.

Investigators did note that customs officers did not “detect a single instance of terrorist threat” that was halted by the initial travel ban. Mr. Trump has twice revised the travel ban, the most recent version of which will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

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News credit : Nytimes

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