In the face of widespread criticism, President Donald Trump and other member of his administration have staunchly defended his order temporarily banning refugees and nearly all citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump's executive order suspended the arrival of all refugees for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely – and bars citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.But in a statement on Sunday, tweets Monday and comments Tuesday, Trump and others misstated the facts or offered contradictory statements multiple times.
What Trump and others said and how it compares with the facts:
“Well, first of all, it’s not a travel ban,” the White House spokesman said during his daily briefing Tuesday when asked about Trump’s executive order halting travel to the US for people from seven majority Muslim countries.
“This is not a travel ban; this is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa-vetting system,” the Homeland Security secretary told reporters on Tuesday.
That’s not what their boss said Monday. Trump defended the order and its immediate implementation in a tweet by saying: “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!”
Spicer also called it a ban Monday at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, saying “the ban deals with seven countries that the Obama administration had previously identified as needing further travel restrictions.”
In a White House statement on Sunday, he said, “My policy is similar to what President [Barack] Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”
That’s not exactly what happened. According to State Department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The data also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.
The Obama administration did slow processing for Iraqi nationals seeking refuge in the US under the government’s Special Immigrant Visa programme for translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. That happened after two Iraqi nationals were arrested on terrorism-related charges. But that year, 618 Iraqis were allowed to enter the US with that special visa.
Government data show that during the 2011 budget year, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on non-immigrant visas, including tourists.
In the same statement, he said, “The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”
That is misleading. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn’t need visas – such as those from Britain – if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.
As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who travelled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions. There were no special US travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries.
Trump, also in Sunday’s statement:
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
Trump is right that there are many majority-Muslim countries that have not been included in the travel ban. But he’s also being misleading. The executive order signed Friday does not specifically say Muslims can’t visit the US, but it does create a temporary total travel ban for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. It also indefinitely bans Syrians.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently said that Trump had asked him to create a plan for a Muslim ban that would meet legal tests. Giuliani said he ultimately made recommendations that focused on security and what countries posed security threats.
The president also tweeted: “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!”
The immigration system doesn’t allow the kind of “rush” Trump is describing. There are 38 countries, mostly European, whose citizens can visit the US without a visa. But they must be approved for travel in advance by supplying background information to the US government. Any other foreigner looking to visit or move to America for school or work has to get in line for a visa and be subjected to a variety of background checks, including reviews by federal law enforcement and intelligence. Before Trump’s executive order was signed, some people were eligible to skip an in-person interview if they met a variety of requirements.
And the US can always stop a foreigner from boarding a US-bound flight or cancel a visa upon someone’s arrival. A visa is not a guarantee that a foreigner will be allowed into the US.