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FactFind: Is Donald Trump's travel ban 'similar to what Obama did'?

We take a look at what actually happened in 2011.

Trump US President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the White House. Source: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In this new series from TheJournal.ie, we answer YOUR questions and bring you the information that you told us you need to know around a topical issue.

Today: What exactly was the story with Obama’s ‘ban’ – and is it ‘similar’ to Trump’s latest manoeuvre?

DONALD TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE order to ban US entry for citizens from seven Middle-Eastern countries caused chaos at US airports and headaches for global governments.

The order also indefinitely banned refugees from Syria and, for a temporary period, refugees from anywhere.

Aside from global condemnation, the ban has also led to the sacking of the US acting Attorney General and an extraordinary intervention from former president Barack Obama.

But Trump has remained defiant. In a Facebook post, he claimed that the action was “not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting”.

This is despite the fact that the seven countries targeted all have Muslim-majority populations and that Trump had campaigned on a promise to ban Muslims from entering the US.

More pointedly, Trump also attempted to link the new policy to Obama in two ways.

He claimed:

My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.

As many people have since quoted these lines and some have used them as a defence of Trump’s policy, let’s take a look at exactly what Obama did and whether they are comparable.

What Obama ‘policy’ is Trump citing?

Pictures Of The Week Photo Gallery President Barack Obama and the President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the White House in November 2016. Source: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

What Trump is referring to stems from a 2011 case when two Iraqi refugees who were granted asylum in the US were subsequently arrested for terrorism offences.

The fallout from this meant that refugee applications from Iraq were slowed, but did not stop “for six months” as Trump claimed.

In fact, over 9,380 Iraqi refugees were accepted in 2011 with some during each individual month of that year.

The Washington Post also quotes a 2011 congressional hearing in which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked if “a hold” had been placed on Iraqi visa applications.

Napolitano said that this was not necessarily the case but that applications went through extra stages of vetting that slowed the process.

“No one will be resettled without going through the same sort of vet. Now I don’t know if that equates to a hold,” Napolitano said.

No, it’s not the same thing

It therefore means that Obama’s policy was different to Trump’s in that it did not constitute a ban or hold, merely extra layers of checks.

It is also noteworthy that the change in Obama’s policy was in response to a specific event. Namely, the arrest of the Iraqi refugees.

Trump’s policy is not in response to any specific threat or perceived flaw in vetting.

The second part of Trump’s claim states that the seven countries were previously identified by the Obama administration.

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 the UK — 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.

- With reporting by Associated Press

Read: Here’s exactly what the Attorney General said before Donald Trump fired her >

Read: Does Ireland have to allow Trump’s migrant ban at its airports? >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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