President Trump's travel ban differs from Obama's 2011 Iraq refugee policy

President Trump is blaming his predecessor for his controversial travel ban.

Trump, in a Sunday statement, said his executive order — which suspends travel from seven Muslim-majority countries — is "similar" to a 2011 measure by former President Barack Obama, "when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months."

There is some truth — but also inaccuracies — in Trump's statement.

The State Department did in fact stop processing Iraq refugees during a six-month period in 2011, which was reported by ABC News and other media outlets. Some of those who faced a slower entry into the United States had previously helped U.S. forces, serving as interpreters or in intelligence roles.

But the 2011 situation wasn't a full travel ban — simply a refugee application slowdown brought on by a Kentucky case involving two al Qaeda terrorists from Iraq found living in Bowling Green, Ky. Obama's measure didn't apply to immigrants and tourists.

The discovery of Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan in Kentucky prompted the FBI to "assign hundreds of specialists to an around-the-clock effort aimed at checking its archive of 100,000 improvised explosive devices collected in the war zones, known as IEDs, for other suspected terrorists' fingerprints," ABC News reported.

The slowdown is reflected in the number of Iraqi refugees who settled into the United States — 18,016 in 2010, 9,388 in 2011 and 12,163 in 2012. Iraqis comprised nearly 17% of refugee arrivals to the United States in 2011.

Trump also credited Obama with selecting the countries involved with his executive order, saying in Sunday's statement that they were "the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror."

Beginning in January 2016, travelers from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria were blocked from entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreign citizens to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Libya, Somalia and Yemen were added soon after due to "the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters."

Despite the restrictions under Obama's policy, people were still able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process, a right not afforded by Trump's executive order, which bans travel from the countries for 90 days, among other restrictions.

President Trump and former President Barack Obama walk out prior to Obama's departure during the 2017 presidential inauguration. Getty Images

Obama Criticizes Trump's Travel Ban, Says 'Values Are At Stake'

Former President Barack Obama has criticized President Trump's immigration and travel ban issued on Friday, saying through a spokesman that he is "heartened by the level of engagement" over the weekend in opposition to the action.

"In his final official speech as President, he spoke about the important role of citizen[s] and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy — not just during an election but every day," Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. "Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake."

It is the first public comment from Obama since he left office just over a week ago and departed for a vacation in Palm Springs, Calif. In his final press conference, Obama signaled he would give the new president some deference but that he wouldn't hesitate to speak up if he believed the country's "core values may be at stake," including "systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion."

The former president apparently felt that was in fact happening with Trump's executive order, which blocked travelers from seven countries, many of which are Muslim-majority — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia — for 90 days. New refugee admissions are suspended for 120 days, while Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely. Trump also signaled in a weekend interview with the Christian Broadcast Network that he would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. The administration has maintained that the sweeping actions don't constitute a Muslim ban, though.

"With regard to comparisons to President Obama's foreign policy decisions, as we've heard before, the President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," the statement from Lewis added.

There was confusion across the country over the implementation of the ban, which blocked some valid visa holders from entering and detained many people who had legal status and green cards. Protests sprang up at major international airports, and on Saturday night a federal judge issued a temporary stay blocking the deportation of valid visa holders.

Trump has argued that his new policy is "similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months." However, as the Washington Post points out, that was in response to a specific threat after Iraqi refugees had been found to be colluding against U.S. troops. And the refugee process was slowed, not halted.


Barack Obama breaks silence on Trump presidency to condemn migration ban

Barack Obama has broken his silence on his successor’s presidency after only 10 days, issuing a short statement that attacks Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban.

“The president [Obama] fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” a spokesman for Obama said.

During his final press conference as president earlier this month, Obama listed a number of issues that might prompt him to return to the political fray.

“There’s a difference between [the] normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” Obama said then. “I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise.

“I put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press. And for me at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them somewhere else, when they love this country.”

On Monday, spokesman Kevin Lewis said Obama was “heartened” by the amount of engagement being seen across the country – presumably a reference to the protests that sprang up over the weekend against Trump’s executive order. “In his final official speech as president, he spoke about the important role of citizens and how all Americans have a responsibility to be the guardians of our democracy – not just during an election, but every day,” Lewis said.

“Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake,” he said.

Obama also rejected an attempt by the Trump administration to draw comparisons with his administration’s move in 2011 to impose more stringent checks on Iraqi refugees after two Iraqis were charged with terrorism offences in Kentucky. Unlike Trump’s order, the Obama policy applied only to Iraqi refugees and never specifically prohibited entry, according to the Associated Press.

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Former Obama administration officials have denied it amounted to a ban. “While the flow of Iraqi refugees slowed significantly during the Obama administration’s review, refugees continued to be admitted to the United States during that time, and there was not a single month in which no Iraqis arrived here,” Jon Finer wrote in Foreign Policy. “In other words, while there were delays in processing, there was no outright ban.”

“With regard to comparisons to President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, as we’ve heard before,” Lewis wrote in his statement, “the president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”

On Monday the Council on American–Islamic Relations (Cair) issued a lawsuit claiming Trump’s travel ban violates the first amendment of the constitution, which establishes the right to freedom of religion. And Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, said he was also launching a legal challenge, saying the banning of immigrants based on their country of citizenship went against state statutes meant to stop discrimination based on place of birth or nationality.

The executive order issued by Trump on Friday denies refugees and immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries entry to the United States.

Trump’s unprecedented action indefinitely closes US borders to refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria and imposes a de facto ban on people traveling to the US from parts of the Middle East and Africa by prioritizing refugee claims “on the basis of religious-based persecution”.

Although Trump administration officials have continued to insist that the president’s actions did not target Muslims or any one faith, the text of the executive order made explicit that the US government would prioritize religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries upon resuming its admittance of refugees.

The president has himself said non-Muslim religious minorities would be prioritized for entry to the US. During an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, Trump said his administration would place an emphasis on helping persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

The action puts in place a 90-day block on entry to the US from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It suspends the admittance of all refugees to the US for a period of 120 days, and terminates indefinitely all refugee admissions from Syria, where the nearly six-year war under Bashar al-Assad’s regime has led to more than 500,000 civilian deaths and created the displacement of an estimated 11 million Syrians.

It also caps the total number of refugees entering the US in 2017 to 50,000 – less than half the previous year’s figure of 117,000.

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