Monday 21 May 2018

Fact check: Trump's misleading claims over travel ban

Mr Trump made a number of misleading claims (AP)
Mr Trump made a number of misleading claims (AP)

In the face of widespread criticism, US president Donald Trump has staunchly defended his order temporarily banning refugees and nearly all citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.

But in a statement on Sunday and a series of tweets on Monday, Mr Trump misstated the facts multiple times.

Here is what the US leader said and how it compares with the facts:

:: In a Twitter message on Monday, he said: "Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage."

According to a federal law enforcement official briefed on the implementation of the order, nearly 400 green-card holders were delayed after arriving at US airports after the travel ban was signed. As of Sunday afternoon, one legal permanent resident had been denied entry as a result of the order.

Delta Airlines did report a computer problem which forced the cancellation of more than 150 flights on Sunday. The chaos and protests at airports around the country began before that happened and were related to the travel ban, not delayed or cancelled flights.

:: In a White House statement on Sunday, President Trump said: "My policy is similar to what President (Barack) Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months."

That is not exactly what happened. According to US state department data, 9,388 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the United States during the 2011 budget year. The figures also show that Iraqi refugees were admitted every month during the 2011 calendar year.

The Obama administration did slow processing for Iraqi nationals seeking refuge in the US under the government's Special Immigrant Visa programme for translators and interpreters who worked with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. That happened after two Iraqi nationals were arrested on terrorism-related charges. But that year, 618 Iraqis were allowed to enter the US with that special visa.

US government data showed that during the 2011 budget year, more than 7,800 Iraqis were allowed into the United States on non-immigrant visas, including tourists.

:: In the same statement, Mr Trump said: "The seven countries named in the executive order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror."

This claim is misleading. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally would not 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 US congress and signed by Mr 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.

:: Mr Trump added, in the same statement : "To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion - this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order."

The US leader is right that there are many majority-Muslim countries which have not been included in the travel ban. But he is also being misleading. The executive order he signed on Friday does not specifically say Muslims cannot visit the US, but it does create a temporary total travel ban for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. It also indefinitely bans Syrians.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani recently told Fox News that Mr Trump had asked him to create a plan for a Muslim ban that would meet legal tests. Mr Giuliani said he ultimately made recommendations that focused on security and what countries posed security threats.

:: The US president also tweeted: "If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the 'bad' would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad 'dudes' out there!"

The US immigration system does not allow the kind of "rush" Mr Trump is describing. There are 38 countries, mostly European, whose citizens can visit the US without a visa. But they must be approved for travel in advance by supplying background information to the US government.

Any other foreigner looking to visit or move to America for school or work has to get in the queue for a visa and be subjected to a variety of background checks, including reviews by federal law enforcement and intelligence services.

Before Mr Trump's executive order was signed, some people were eligible to skip an in-person interview if they met a variety of requirements.

The US can always stop a foreigner from boarding a US-bound flight or cancel a visa upon someone's arrival. A visa is not a guarantee that a foreigner will be allowed into America.


Press Association

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