Trump administration defends 'lawful' travel ban

A US appeals court is set to hold a hearing on Tuesday over President Donald Trump's controversial travel ban, which the government is defending as a "lawful exercise" of his authority.

The White House on Monday urged the court to reinstate the ban in the interests of national security three days after a federal judge barred enforcement of the controversial measure in a high-stakes case that looks increasingly likely to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Justice Department lawyers challenging the nationwide injunction called it "vastly overbroad" in a court brief filed Monday.

Tuesday's hour-long telephone hearing is scheduled for 3:00 pm (2300 GMT).

Two new polls show a majority of Americans now oppose the travel ban on refugees and travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations, which prompted airport chaos and condemnation around the world - but Trump has shown no sign of bending, pushing back late Monday in a new Twitter salvo.

"The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is very real, just look at what is happening in Europe and the Middle-East. Courts must act fast!" he wrote.

Earlier in the day, during a visit to US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, Trump accused the media of downplaying the terror threat that his administration cites to justify its ban, saying they purposefully ignored jihadist atrocities.

Although he failed to provide evidence of a conspiracy by the media, the White House later distributed a list of 78 attacks it said were "executed or inspired by" the Islamic State group, saying most failed to receive adequate media coverage - without specifying which ones.

However, the claims ignore a large amount of reporting on these attacks by the jihadist group and its sympathizers in Western countries.

Court 'erred'

Trump's decree summarily denied entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days - a move critics charge will damage US interests. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.

The president says the ban is needed to tighten US security against foreign terror threats, citing the September 11, 2001 attacks despite the hijackers having no links to the named countries.

In its filing to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the government argued that the federal court that temporarily rolled back Trump's directive had "erred in entering an injunction barring enforcement of the order," asking that the ban be reinstated.

The Justice Department argued that "the executive order is a lawful exercise of the president's authority over the entry of aliens into the United States and the admission of refugees."

"Even if some relief were appropriate, the court's sweeping nationwide injunction is vastly overbroad," it said.

The government again denied that the order specifically targets Muslims, defending it as a means of reviewing and revising screening procedures in order to "protect against terrorist attacks."

And it said non-US citizens seeking to enter the United States for the first time have no constitutional rights to be upheld.

Mounting opposition

Friday's decision by a federal judge in Seattle has allowed the many travelers who were suddenly barred from US soil to start trickling back in.

The State Department has said visa holders from the seven countries are allowed to travel to the US as long as their documents have not been "physically canceled."

On Sunday, the appellate court refused to overrule the federal judge.

Attorneys general for the states of Washington and Minnesota, which won the temporary stay of the ban, have asked the appeals court to refuse to reinstate it. They were backed Monday in a court brief filed by attorneys general from 16 other US states.

Several legal and rights groups have filed in support of the states, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union.

And in an additional blow, a slew of Silicon Valley giants led by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit, arguing that the ban threatens their ability to attract crucial foreign talent and investment to the United States.

Tesla and SpaceX were among another 30 companies that added their names to the filing late Monday, pushing the total to more than 120.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer insisted the administration was "absolutely not" planning to back down on its plan for extreme vetting at US borders, saying, "once we win the case, it will go right back into action."

But top Republicans have shown renewed signs of discomfort with the president as the controversy escalates - specifically over Trump's virulent attacks on James Robart, the Seattle federal judge.

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