US President Donald Trump signed a revised ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority nations Monday, scaling back the order to exempt Iraqis and permanent US residents.
With his first attempt frozen by federal courts, Trump signed a second order halting new visas for Syrians, Iranians, Libyans, Somalis, Yemenis and Sudanese citizens.
The White House said Trump -- who is embroiled in controversy over his aides' links to Russia -- signed the order behind closed doors Monday morning.
The new order is meant to address legal problems. It explicitly exempts Iraqis, legal permanent residents and valid visa holders.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one of three cabinet members rolled out to present the order in Trump's absence, described it as "a vital measure" for strengthening national security.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions added that it "provides a needed pause" allowing a review of how America deals with travelers from "countries of concern."
"Three of these nations are state sponsors of terrorism," Sessions said, referring to Iran, Sudan and Syria.
He added that others had served as "safe havens" for terror operatives.
Sean Spicer briefs the press on Trump's revised travel ban
Critics questioned the composition of the list, which includes citizens from countries that have never been involved in terror attacks in the United States.
They accused Trump of covertly pursuing his controversial and possibly illegal campaign promise of a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
The question of Trump's intent is likely to dominate new legal challenges that are already being flagged by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union.
"President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people," said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the measure should be repealed, adding: "A watered down ban is still a ban."
Five main differences in Trump's new immigration order
1. Syrian refugees are no longer indefinitely banned
In the original executive order, America’s entire refugee program was suspended for 120 days and the intake of Syrian refugees was suspended indefinitely. The new order retains the 120 day suspension, but Syria has not been singled out for indefinite suspension.
2. Iraq is no longer included
The original order included a 90 day prohibition of any entry to the country by nationals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan – in the new order, Iraq is no longer on that list.
3. Exemptions apply to all current visa holders, permanent residents and dual nationals
The original order sparked chaos at airports, under the sweeping language of the order, no explicit exemptions were given for permanent residents or dual nationals – and the order applied to people who already held valid visas. The new order contains explicit exemptions for permanent residents, anyone who had a valid visa before the first order was issued, and any dual national travelling on a passport for a country not listed in the ban.
4. The order does not take immediate effect
The first order caused confusion and immediate chaos – with many agencies responsible taken by surprise.
This order contains a 9 day grace period before it comes into effect. The order will take effect on 12:01 am Eastern time on March 16.
5. Religious minorities are not exempted
The original order was criticised by lawyers for appearing to favour Christian refugees over Muslim refugees because it included a religious minority exemption to the bans on refugees from seven Muslim majority countries. The new order clarifies that the exemption was never intended to be discriminatory, but does not include a similar provision.
WATCH: Iraq to be left off new travel ban
Travel ban, take two
Trump's first order had sparked a legal, political and logistical furor.
There was chaos at major airports and mass protests while several district courts moved to block its implementation and lawmakers expressed opposition.
The troubled rollout also dominated the first weeks of the new administration, leaving many with the impression that it was badly planned and badly implemented.
Polls show that American public opinion is deeply divided on the issue. Most indicate a slight majority of voters opposed, with strong support among Trump's political base.
WATCH: American Civil Liberties Union rejects Trump's new travel ban
The Republican president criticized a court order suspending the ban as "a very bad decision, very bad for the safety and security of our country. The rollout was perfect."
But he has now stepped away from a promise to challenge the matter in the courts. The second order repeals the first, spelling the end of any pending legal proceedings.
Whatever the legal outcome, Trump's new ban is likely to polarize opinion further and be immensely popular with his core supporters.
Shoulder to shoulder
Iraq's inclusion in the first order prompted outrage in that country, including from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
It risked scuttling cooperation between Baghdad and Washington in fighting the Islamic State group.
The US and Iraqi militaries are currently fighting side-by-side in northern Iraq, trying to wrest the city of Mosul from jihadist control.
The Iraqi foreign ministry on Monday expressed its "deep satisfaction" with the new order, and described it as an "important step" in strengthening relations between Baghdad and Washington.
But the revised travel ban is also likely to sow further confusion about US immigration policies.
On Monday, Nigeria advised its citizens against all but essential travel to the United States, citing the lack of clarity on new immigration rules.
"In the last few weeks, the office has received a few cases of Nigerians with valid multiple-entry US visas being denied entry and sent back to Nigeria," said special adviser to the president Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
According to a report released Monday by travel data firm Forwardkeys, travel from the United States to the Middle East has also fallen sharply, with bookings for departure in the next three months falling 25.4 percent behind the equivalent time last year.
Roiled by Russia
But the ban is likely to help Trump divert attention from rolling crises on his ties with Russia.
Since US intelligence publicly accused Russia of trying to swing the November election in Trump's favor, questions have swirled about whether some in Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow.
The last week has seen his attorney general recuse himself from election-related investigations, after it emerged he met the Russian ambassador in Washington twice during the campaign.
It has also seen Trump level unsubstantiated allegations that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretap on the now president's phone.
WATCH: Trump's wiretap claims strongly denied