Did Obama ban refugees in 2011? Fact-checking Trump's statements about Obama and refugees

Source: Andrew Harnik/AP

In a statement Sunday, President Donald Trump defended his executive order targeting Muslim immigrants and refugees by saying that his policy is "similar to what [former] President (Barack Obama) did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months."

Like so much of what Trump says, this is false: the Obama administration did not ban refugees from Iraq for six months in 2011. 

What really happened in 2011?

Former President Barack Obama did not ban refugees from Iraq, as Donald Trump has claimed.
Source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In May 2011, two Iraqis in Kentucky were arrested on terrorism charges after admitting to having attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The FBI suggested at the time that "dozens" of terrorists may have entered the U.S. posing as refugees, leading the Obama administration to "re-examine the records of 58,000 Iraqis who had been settled in the United States. It "imposed new, more extensive background checks on Iraqi refugees," according to the Washington Post.

This significantly slowed the admissions process, the Post reports, but did not amount to a "ban," as Trump described it. Iraqi refugees were still being admitted to the U.S., albeit at a more sluggish pace.

Foreign Policy notes several more differences between the Obama administration's actions in 2011 and Trump's order on Friday. The Obama review applied only to Iraqi's applying for Special Immigrant Visas – which help those who have assisted the U.S. in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – and not to virtually all immigrants from seven countries, as Trump's does. Further, the Obama review came in response to a specific threat; Trump has not offered information demonstrating a need for his ban.

The seven countries listed in Trump's immigration ban did come from Obama's Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, which he signed in 2015. That law barred citizens from or anyone who had recently traveled to those seven countries from accessing the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from 38 countries who are visiting the United States for less than 90 days to enter without a visa.

But, as Foreign Policy notes, the Obama legislation did not prevent anyone from coming to the U.S., and the administration ensured that it did not keep journalists, aid workers, officials from international organizations and other categories of travelers from entering the country.

According to Foreign Policy, Obama's 2011 measure did not bar refugees from entering the U.S., did not have the chaotic roll-out that Trump's order did and resulted in a stronger vetting process.

Feb. 3, 2017, 5:57 p.m. This story has been updated.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Eric Lutz

Eric is a staff writer covering news for Mic. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at ericlutz@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Kellyanne Conway defends Medicaid cuts, says "able-bodied" adults need only find jobs

Finding a job with health care benefits may not be as easy as Conway suggests.

Bernie Sanders makes bipartisan appeal to delay vote on Senate health care bill

A call to postpone the vote on the Senate's health care bill till after the July 4 holiday recess has bipartisan support.

President Trump responds to Obama's criticism of Senate health care plan

On 'Fox and Friends,' President Trump claims he actually agrees with Obama on something.

Report: Rex Tillerson may drop Iraq, Myanmar from child soldiers list

Tillerson overruled his own staff, who said neither country has actually stopped using child soldiers.

Donald Trump is now blaming Obama for Russian election interference

Trump tweeted Obama "choked" on Russia, adding he thinks Obama was trying to protect Hillary Clinton.

Former Obama defense official: Russia hacks are "political equivalent of 9/11"

"I don't see much evidence of a response," Vickers added.

Kellyanne Conway defends Medicaid cuts, says "able-bodied" adults need only find jobs

Finding a job with health care benefits may not be as easy as Conway suggests.

Bernie Sanders makes bipartisan appeal to delay vote on Senate health care bill

A call to postpone the vote on the Senate's health care bill till after the July 4 holiday recess has bipartisan support.

President Trump responds to Obama's criticism of Senate health care plan

On 'Fox and Friends,' President Trump claims he actually agrees with Obama on something.

Report: Rex Tillerson may drop Iraq, Myanmar from child soldiers list

Tillerson overruled his own staff, who said neither country has actually stopped using child soldiers.

Donald Trump is now blaming Obama for Russian election interference

Trump tweeted Obama "choked" on Russia, adding he thinks Obama was trying to protect Hillary Clinton.

Former Obama defense official: Russia hacks are "political equivalent of 9/11"

"I don't see much evidence of a response," Vickers added.