Opinion: Trump can’t blame Obama for his latest immigration fiasco

Protesters at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport demonstrate Saturday against President Trump's executive order banning visa holders and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States.
(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

With major airports in chaos over the weekend, President Trump sought to deflect blame the same way Republicans have been doing for eight years: By blaming President Obama.

At some point, that’s going to stop working even for the GOP. But then, Obama spent years blaming President George W. Bush for the country’s ills, so….

Anyway, as the protests grew and the heat on the administration intensified Sunday, Trump issued a statement claiming that he was effectively repeating steps taken by his predecessor.


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

What do details matter to a man of action?

But Trump, for whom policy details seem as welcome as an extra helping of haggis, glossed over key differences between what Obama did and what he unleashed Friday.

First, the Obama administration’s actions in 2011 came in response to a specific weakness in the vetting of a specific group of immigrants. The background checks on Iraqi refugees didn’t cross-reference a database of fingerprints gathered from fragments of explosive devices that had targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. When the FBI did those checks, it found matches to two Iraqis who’d been allowed to resettle in the United States in 2009. That prompted Obama to act. Trump’s action came in response to a campaign promise.

Second, rather than canceling existing visas and harming people who’d already sold their homes and started moving to the United States, as Trump did, the Obama administration stopped processing new applications from Iraq for refugee status or Special Immigrant Visas (e.g., for Iraqis who worked as translators for the U.S. military) while also conducting new background checks on current ones. No one was detained at an airport, pulled off of a plane or ordered back to the country he or she had just fled. And refugees from Iraq continued to be admitted throughout that period, according to Foreign Policy magazine, just in far smaller numbers.

Third, the Obama administration made no public announcements about the change in policy. Instead, it came to light two years later, when ABC News apparently broke the story. That’s a sharp contrast to the Trump approach of alienating people around the world by publicly shutting the door on seven countries’ immigrants, visitors and refugees.


And fourth, Obama didn’t make exceptions based on the applicant’s religion. Trump’s order gives non-Muslim refugees priority over Muslims after the ban on entry is lifted.

It’s odd to blame Obama for picking those seven countries. According to the Wall Street Journal, Congress rolled back the special access to the United States that citizens of four of those countries had been granted, ensuring that anyone from there or who had traveled there recently obtained a visa before coming here. The Obama administration later added the other three to the visa requirement.

Nor, as the Journal piece points out, have those countries been the major sources of people who commit terrorist acts in the United States: “Of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order, according to an analysis of data on the attacks by the Wall Street Journal. None of the 11 were identified as coming from either Syria, Libya or Sudan, and none of the 11 were involved in any major U.S. plot resulting in the deaths of Americans, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Instead, the largest source by far is the United States itself, followed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Journal reported.

But hey, what do details matter to a man of action?

Twitter: @jcahealey