Trump’s facile claim that his refugee pol­icy is sim­i­lar to Obama’s in 2011

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - GLENN KESSLER glenn.kessler@wash­post.com

“My pol­icy is sim­i­lar to what Pres­i­dent Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”

— Pres­i­dent Trump, state­ment on ex­ec­u­tive or­der, Jan. 29, 2017

The Trump White House made a num­ber of mis­lead­ing state­ments in jus­ti­fy­ing its ex­ec­u­tive or­der deny­ing en­try into the United States for trav­el­ers from seven ma­jor­i­tyMus­lim coun­tries.

For in­stance, Pres­i­dent Trump and other of­fi­cials ini­tially tried to min­i­mize the dis­rup­tion by claim­ing that only 109 trav­el­ers were “de­tained” upon ar­rival. Of­fi­cials later con­ceded that that fig­ure re­flected only the num­ber of peo­ple fly­ing to the United States when the or­der was signed.

State De­part­ment statis­tics in­di­cate that the po­ten­tial universe of peo­ple af­fected by the en­try ban is much higher: 90,000. That’s how many peo­ple re­ceived ei­ther non­im­mi­grant or im­mi­grant visas from the seven af­fected coun­tries in fis­cal 2015, the most re­cent data avail­able. Even that num­ber does not in­clude po­ten­tially tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who are dual cit­i­zens, such as Dutch Ira­ni­ans, who are also af­fected by the or­der. (On Fri­day, the State De­part­ment said it had cal­cu­lated that the num­ber of cur­rently valid visas af­fected in the three-month pe­riod was about 60,000.)

As shown in the quote above, Trump also claimed that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did the same thing in 2011. But the com­par­i­son is rather facile.

Here’s what hap­pened in 2011.

The Facts

The only news re­port that we could find that re­ferred to a six­month ban was a 2013 ABC News ar­ti­cle that in­cluded this line: “As a re­sult of the Ken­tucky case, the State De­part­ment stopped pro­cess­ing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, fed­eral of­fi­cials told ABC News — even for many who had hero­ically helped U.S. forces as in­ter­preters and in­tel­li­gence as­sets.”

The “Ken­tucky case” refers to two Iraqis in Ken­tucky who in May 2011 were ar­rested and faced fed­eral ter­ror­ism charges af­ter of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered from an in­for­mant that Waad Ra­madan Al­wan, be­fore he had been granted asy­lum in the United States, had con­structed im­pro­vised road­side bombs in Iraq. The FBI, af­ter ex­am­in­ing frag­ments from thou­sands of bomb parts, found Al­wan’s fin­ger­prints on a cord­less phone that had been wired to de­t­o­nate an im­pro­vised bomb in 2005.

The ar­rests caused an uproar in Congress, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pledged to re­ex­am­ine the records of 58,000 Iraqis who had been set­tled in the United States. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also im­posed new, more ex­ten­sive back­ground checks on Iraqi refugees. Me­dia re­ports at the time fo­cused on how the new screen­ing pro­ce­dures had de­layed visa ap­provals, even as the United States was pre­par­ing to end its in­volve­ment in the Iraq War.

“The en­hanced screen­ing pro­ce­dures have caused a log­jam in reg­u­lar visa ad­mis­sions from Iraq, even for those who risked their lives to aid Amer­i­can troops and who now fear reprisals as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion winds down the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence,” the Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported.

The Los An­ge­les Times re­ported that U.S. of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged de­lays but were try­ing to speed up the process. The news­pa­per quoted a se­nior of­fi­cial as say­ing the State De­part­ment’s Na­tional Visa Cen­ter has been or­dered to flag spe­cial visa ap­pli­ca­tions for ex­pe­dited ac­tion.

At a Septem­ber 2011 con­gres­sional hear­ing, Sen. Su­san Collins (R-Maine) asked then-Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano if a hold had been placed on Iraqi visa ap­pli­ca­tions. Napoli­tano an­swered that all pre­vi­ous Iraqi refugees had been revet­ted, us­ing data­bases across the gov­ern­ment, and the same process was in place for new refugees.

“Now I don’t know if that equates to a hold, as you say, but I can say that hav­ing done the al­ready re­set­tled pop­u­la­tion mov­ing for­ward, they will all be re­viewed against those kinds of data­bases,” Napoli­tano said.

State De­part­ment records show there was a sig­nif­i­cant drop in refugee ar­rivals from Iraq in 2011. There were 18,251 in 2010, 6,339 in 2011 and 16,369 in 2012.

But for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials deny that any ac­tual ban on Iraqi refugee ad­mis­sions was put in place un­der Obama.

Eric P. Schwartz, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for pop­u­la­tion, refugees and mi­gra­tion at the time, said Trump’s state­ment is false.

“Pres­i­dent Obama never im­posed a six-month ban on Iraqi pro­cess­ing,” said Schwartz, now dean of the Univer­sity of Min­nesota’s Humphrey School of Pub­lic Af­fairs. “For sev­eral months in 2011, there was a lower level of Iraqi re­set­tle­ment, as the gov­ern­ment im­ple­mented cer­tain se­cu­rity en­hance­ments.” But, he said, “there was never a point dur­ing that pe­riod in which Iraqi re­set­tle­ment was stopped, or banned.”

Jon Finer, an­other for­mer of­fi­cial in­volved in the pol­icy, said “there was not a sin­gle month in which no Iraqis ar­rived here.”

The Pinoc­chio Test

So what’s the dif­fer­ence with Trump’s ac­tion?

First, Obama re­sponded to an ac­tual threat — the dis­cov­ery that two Iraqi refugees had been im­pli­cated in bomb­mak­ing in Iraq that had tar­geted U.S. troops. (Iraq, af­ter all, was a war zone.) Un­der con­gres­sional pres­sure, of­fi­cials de­cided to re­ex­am­ine all pre­vi­ous refugees and im­pose new screen­ing pro­ce­dures, which led to a slow­down in pro­cess­ing new ap­pli­ca­tions. Trump, by con­trast, is­sued his ex­ec­u­tive or­der with­out any known trig­ger­ing threat. (His staff has pointed to at­tacks un­re­lated to the coun­tries named in his or­der.)

Sec­ond, Obama did not an­nounce a ban on visa ap­pli­ca­tions. There was cer­tainly a lot of news re­port­ing that visa ap­pli­ca­tions had slowed to a trickle. But the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion never said it had a pol­icy to halt all ap­pli­ca­tions. In­deed, it is clear that no ban was put in place. Even so, the de­lays did not go un­no­ticed, so there was crit­i­cal news re­port­ing at the time about the angst of Iraqis wait­ing for ap­proval.

Third, Obama’s pol­icy did not pre­vent all cit­i­zens of that coun­try, in­clud­ing green-card hold­ers, from trav­el­ing to the United States. Trump’s pol­icy is much more sweep­ing, though af­ter a week­end of neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity, of­fi­cials pulled back from bar­ring per­ma­nent U.S. res­i­dents.

In other words, un­der Obama, Iraqi refugee pro­cess­ing was slowed in re­sponse to a spe­cific threat, but it was not halted. The Trump White House, mean­while, failed to re­spond to re­quests to pro­vide any ev­i­dence for the pres­i­dent’s claim.

Trump earns Three Pinoc­chios. More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ news/fact-checker

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