“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.” — Donald Trump, 29 January 2017
Among the fallout of this week’s immigration ban, President Trump and his advisors tried to deflect attention from the international outcry by suggesting they were doing something similar to the last administration.
Conservative MP for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg echoed President Trump’s words by asking: “Where were the complaints when Barack Obama banned Iraqi refugees for six months?” while being interviewed by Matt Frei on Channel 4 News on Monday evening.
Several of FactCheck’s Twitter followers have asked us to check these claims out. Do both “bans” by the two different administrations compare?
It’s true that in 2011, the processing of Iraqi refugees entering the US slowed down after tighter vetting was introduced. But it wasn’t an outright ban.
In August 2011, 1,020 Iraqi refugees were admitted into the US, according to US State Department figures.
In fact, there wasn’t a single month in 2011 when no Iraqi refugees were admitted into the country.
There certainly was a slowdown in numbers (down to 111 in March 2011) due to the new vetting procedures.
There were numerous reports of large delays which caused problems, and hand-wringing in the US media over the issue. But these were still stories of delays and difficulties for Iraqi refugees – not an outright ban.
Mr Trump’s statement was also very loose in its wording, specifically when he said Obama “banned visas for refugees”: refugees do not travel on visas.
Essentially, the Obama move was a temporary slowdown that only affected one country.
The Trump administration’s actions include an indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees, a 120-day halt to the wider US refugee programme and a 90-day suspension on the entry of visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Obama’s policy did not involve enhanced vetting of green card holders. But those people – who have been given permission to live and work in the US – were caught up in the Trump travel ban.
Another point worth noting is that there was a reason behind Obama’s policy, namely a specific security threat.
Earlier in 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they had been living, and charged with using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against US soldiers in Iraq. They were also charged with attempting to send weapons and money to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
We are yet to be given evidence from the Trump administration that they have received intelligence that a similar threat is imminent.
Instead they have pointed out that the seven countries whose citizens are being temporarily prevented from entering the US are the same “countries of concern” named in a law on visa admissions passed under the last administration.
So there are big differences. Obama slows the entry of refugees from one country in response to a specific threat. Trump bans entry for most categories of traveller from seven countries – and goes further on restricting refugees – with no word of any specific threat.