U.S. President Donald Trump has issued orders indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from the United States and temporarily suspending visits from a wide swathe of other Muslim countries.
Vowing to protect the country from "foreign terrorists," Trump on January 27 ordered the suspension of all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days until a rigorous new "extreme vetting" process is put in place.
The White House said the countries targeted were Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
Trump also decreed a four-month suspension of the U.S. refugee program for countries outside Syria, an order affecting refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And he cut in half to 50,000 the number of refugees the United States will accept from around the world this year.
A major exception to the refugee bans was for Syrian Christians, who Trump said were persecuted in their homeland.
"I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don't want them here," Trump said as he unveiled the orders at the Pentagon.
"We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people."
Civil rights groups condemned the measures as discriminatory and unconstitutional for targeting a specific religion.
They said the moves, which Trump had promised during his campaign, would strand refugees in dangerous places and backfire by feeding hatred toward the United States in the Muslim world and tarnishing its reputation as a land welcoming of immigrants and the world's "poor and huddled masses."
"'Extreme vetting' is just a euphemism for discriminating against Muslims," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said his group would fight the orders "tooth and nail" in court.
"It is targeting people based on their faith and national origin, and not on their character or their criminality," he told AFP.
Immigration attorneys said the orders were having an immediate chaotic impact on people planning to visit the United States or arranging for relatives in one of the targeted countries to join them in the United States.
Even before Trump's announcement, prominent people from the targeted regions said they would boycott travel to the United States in protest. An Iranian actress in a film nominated for an Academy Award this year said she would boycott the Los Angeles awards ceremony.
An Iraqi-Kurdish filmmaker, Hussein Hassan, also scrapped plans to attend the U.S. premiere of his critically acclaimed film on Iraq's embattled Yazidi minority, The Dark Wind, scheduled for March.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told AP that the orders were "wrongheaded and dangerous in terms of the Middle East."
Iranian-Americans point out that not a single terrorist incident in the United States has involved Iranians, while many of the hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington were from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the list of targeted countries.
Moreover, Iran, like the United States and Iraq, has sent troops to battle Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria, the group that has inspired the most recent attacks by its followers in the United States.
Abbas al-Bayati, an Iraqi member of parliament, said the curbs were sending the wrong message to Iraqis at a time when Washington is counting on Iraqi forces to battle IS militants in their stronghold of Mosul.
Fellow Iraqi lawmaker Majid Chenkali was less diplomatic, saying Iraq should respond in kind and not allow Americans into Iraq.
"It should be an eye for an eye," he told AP.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters