On Saturday, President Trump signed an executive order temporarily cracking down on entry into the United States by citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Mainstream media and Trump critics were quick to label the order as “racist”, “Islamophobic” and a blanket ban on all Muslims.
However, these seven Muslim-majority countries were selected for special security precautions by – wait for it – former President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.
On January 28, 2016, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing changes to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). Under the Act, individuals who travelled to or nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria after March 1, 2011 were no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States.
A month later, on February 28, 2016, DHS announced that it is continuing its implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 with the addition of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as three countries of concern, limiting Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals who have traveled to these countries.
Additionally, in 2011 Obama halted the processing of Iraqi refugees for six months following an FBI investigation which uncovered al-Qaeda terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who later admitted in court they attacked US soldiers in Iraq.
Trump’s executive order isn’t unprecedented. During the Iranian hostage crisis, former President Jimmy Carter issued an order cancelling entry visas for citizens of Iran unless they opposed the Islamist regime or had a medical emergency. On April 7, 1980, the Secretary of Treasury and the Attorney General announced that they will “invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly.”
Under Trump’s order, the US refugee admission program is blocked for 120 days, but Syrian Refugees, who are labelled “detrimental to the interests of the United States” are banned until such time that the the security screening process is revamped and their admission to the US is “consistent with the national interest”.
Finally, the claim that Trump’s order puts a blanket ban on all Muslim refugees doesn’t pass the test as there are 51 Muslim-majority countries in the world, including Albania, Comoros, Indonesia and Turkey, but the ban applies only to seven countries “of particular concern”, singled out by the previous administration over its ties to radical Islamic terrorism.
Ilana Shneider is the co-editor of CIJnews and the founding executive director of Canada-Israel Friendship Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mutually beneficial, long-standing diplomatic, economic and cultural ties between Canada and Israel. She can be reached at [email protected]