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Did Obama ban Muslims from seven countries in 2011?

Jan. 31, 2017

Status: Misleading

On January 27, 2017 President Trump issued an unnumbered Executive Order temporarily barring entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations with the intent of interdicting entry by foreign terrorists. While it didn't specifically mention Islam, the intended target was clearly radical Islamic extremists. In a White House press release Trump stated that, "My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months... To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," (White House, 2017b). Within 24 hours the Gateway Pundit, a known fake news website, claimed that the Obama Administration banned all Iraqi refugees in 2011 (Gateway Pundit, 2017; Zimdars. 2016). Soon thereafter the claim that Trump was only implementing their policies promptly went viral in social media and Far-Right forums. Memes like the one below began showing up everywhere on Facebook.

Massive protests when Obama banned refugees from Iraq in 2011.

Google searches and the order itself reveal Trump's claim to be a partial truth at best (White House, 2017; Qiu, 2017). In 2011 it was discovered that two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, KY had used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and were attempting to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers (USDOJ, 2013). The FBI Launched a large-scale investigation of its archive of 100,000 IED's collected in war zones for ties to other terrorists potentially on U.S. soil, and a review of refugee processing procedures (Meek et al., 2013). While this investigation was under way, as a precautionary measure the Obama Administration paused the visa vetting process for review which slowed, but did not stop admittion of refugees (LaCapria, 2017). State Dept. records indicate that Iraqi refugees were in fact admitted during every month of FY 2011 (USDOS, 2012).

The actual source of the seven countries in Trump's ban was H.R. 158--the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (U.S. Senate, 2015). The U.S. Visa Waiver Program allowed citizens from 38 countries to enter the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. H.R. 158 ammended that program with the stipulation that citizens of those 38 countries who had traveled to Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan (which had been identified as "countries of concern") after March 2011 were no longer eligible for the visa waiver. They had to apply for Visas before being granted entry into the U.S. In2016 it was further ammended to include Libya, Yemen, and Somalia (Qiu, 2017).

In other words, Obama's so-called "ban" didn't ban citizens of these seven countries from entering the U.S. It merely required them to have visas before doing so. Furthermore, unlike Trump's Executive Order, H.R. 158 wasn't a dictum of the White House under Obama. It was the creation of Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller (MI) in response to public fears over the Nov. 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, and a Dec. 2015 mass-shooting in San Bernadino, CA by an American-born man of Pakistani descent, and was quietly slipped into the must-pass Omnibus Appropriations Budget Bill of 2015 at the last minute, and thus virtually guaranteed passage for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Obama Administration's foreign terror policies.

So the Obama Administration;

  1. Delayed, but did not stop the processing of Iraqi refugee visas for six months in 2011 to vet the admission process in response to evidence of a credible and specific threat to national security.
  2. Began requiring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries to have valid visas before entering the U.S. in 2015.

On the other hand, Trump issued a blanket ban of all citizens from these countries via White House Executive Order. Unlike the Obama Administration's policies, that order wasn't issued in response to evidence of an immediate threat to national security. It was what he'd promised to do during his campaign (Trump/Pence, 2015). Any similarities between the two exist only in his eyes, and those of his supporters.


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