How Does Trump’s Immigration Ban Compare to Obama’s 2011 Iraqi Refugee Action?

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February 5, 2017

How Does Trump’s Immigration Ban Compare to Obama’s 2011 Iraqi Refugee Action?

The 2011 Iraqi Refugee Action

Information has been circling in the media comparing the Trump administration's recent executive order on immigration to the Obama administration's 2011 action on the Iraqi refugee resettlement program. We thought it would be helpful to explain the similarities and differences between both programs. At the outset, lets take a look at what prompted the 2011 action on Iraqi refugee resettlement.

In May, 2011, two Iraqi nationals who had obtained asylum in the United States were arrested on terrorism charges. As a result, the Obama administration initiated a process to re investigate all of the Iraqi refugees who had previously been admitted and to administer a heightened security background check on all future Iraqi refugees. The implementation of the expanded vetting procedure and the re investigation of the already admitted refugees caused a significant slow down in the processing of new visas from Iraq as a result of the new administrative burden. Intending Iraqi immigrants were told that they would not be allowed to board flights that were already booked. Some were even removed from planes. While there were delays in processing, there was no outright ban.

Trump's 2017 Executive Order

On January 27, 2017 President Trump signed an executive order that took two major actions. Trump's order stops the entry of all refugees for three months and stops Syrian refugees indefinitely. It cuts the number of refugees who will ultimately be admitted to the United States this year in half. In addition to refugees, the executive order initially blocked for 90 days the entry of all immigrants and non-immigrants from seven countries not named in the order but later provided by the administration.

Immigrant visa holders are lawful permanent residents, often called green card holders. Non-immigrant visas could include anything from fiance to tourist or business visas. DHS later clarified that green card holders should be admitted but several had already been refused entry and returned to other countries by that point. The executive order and follow up statements from the administration also make it clear that travelers seeking admission to the United States who have ties to or recently traveled to any of the seven countries will be subject to increased scrutiny upon arrival. This would pertain to those who hold dual nationality, such as both British and Yemeni citizenship. People could be impacted even if they have lived their entire life in a country such as the UAE but hold Syrian citizenship.

Obama's 2011 Iraqi Refugee Action

No visa ban or suspension

Only pertained to Iraqi refugees

Did not suspend refugee program as a whole

Iraqi refugees continued to arrive despite delays

In response to specific incident

Trump's Executive Order

Completely suspends refugee program for all countries

LPRs (green card holders) affected

detained refugees and visa holders at US customs

Not in response to specific incident

Bans all types of immigrants, not just refugees

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