By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
I was outraged by the ban on refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East. I’ve covered refugees fleeing war in Iraq and Syria over the last two years, meeting families on the road in Greece, Serbia and Macedonia, speaking to poor people in Turkey and Jordan and discussing the hopes and fears of people displaced in Iraq. If you want to ban “terrorists,” these are the last people to hit with a refugee ban. Instead the government should be using the best intelligence possible to find people being radicalized, some of whom have lived in the US their whole lives or who come from countries not affected by the ban, such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.
So I was outraged, and then I read the executive order. There are many full texts of the order online, such as at CNN, the NYT, the WSJ or Independent. According to most reports Trump was banning “nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for at least the next 90 days.” This bars people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. US Senator Elizabeth Warren said “Let’s be clear: A Muslim ban by any other name is still a Muslim ban,” and Senator Chris Murphy claimed “Trump has now handed ISIS a path to rebirth.” Media, such as Vox and the Independent, compared the ban to banning Jews from entry during the Holocaust and bashed Trump for singing the order on Holocaust memorial day. World leaders are “condemning Trump’s Muslim ban,” according to headlines.
I had to see for myself, so I read the executive order. The order does seek “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” It says that it seeks “Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern.” It also says “I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order.” And it targets Syrians specifically. “I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”
But, wait a sec. According to the reports “The order bars all people hailing from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.” Critics had attacked Trump for selecting these seven countries and not selecting other states “linked to his sprawling business empire.” Bloomberg and Forbes bought into this.
But, wait a sec. I read the order and Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are not mentioned in it.
Go back and read it again. Do a “ctrl-f” to find “Iraq”. Where is “Iraq” in the order. It’s not there. Only Syria is there. So where are the seven nations? Where is the “Muslim ban”? It turns out this was a form of fake news, or alternative facts. Trump didn’t select seven “Muslim-majority” countries. US President Barack Obama’s administration selected these seven Muslim-majority countries.
The Department of Homeland Security targeted these seven countries over the last years as countries of concern. In February 2016 “The Department of Homeland Security today 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.” It noted “the three additional countries designated today join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries subject to restrictions for Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals.” It was the US policy under Obama to restrict and target people “who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).” This was text of the US Customs and Border Protection in 2015 relating to “the Visa Waiver Program and Terrorist Travel Protection Act of 2015“. The link even includes the seven nation list in it: “Iraq, Syria, Iran, SUdan, Somalia or Yemen.” And the media knew this back in May 2016 when some civil rights groups complained about it. “These restrictions have provoked an outcry from the Iranian-American community, as well as Arab-American and civil-liberties groups, who say the restrictions on dual nationals and certain travelers are discriminatory and could be imposed against American dual nationals.”
It was signed into law on December 18, 2015, as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of FY2016.
What? So there was a Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 two years before Trump? There was a kind of “Muslim ban” before the Muslim ban? But almost no one critiqued it in 2015 because it was Obama’s administration overseeing it.
So for more than a year it has been US policy to discriminate against, target and even begin to ban people from the seven countries that Trump is accused of banning immigrants and visitors from. CNN even hinted at this by noting “those countries were named in a 2016 law concerning immigration visas as ‘countries of concern.'” But why didn’t CNN note that the seven countries were not named and that in fact they are only on the list because of Obama’s policy?
Because mainstream media has been purposely lying, either due to ignorance or because of unwillingness to read the document and ask questions and because they are too ready to accept “facts” without investigating. They want to blame Trump for a “Muslim ban” because they were ready with that script since last year. And indeed Trump has enacted a harsh executive order cracking down on visitors from these countries (particularly Syrians), but his crackdown only includes those seven countries because of Obama’s policy. Trump’s decision to go beyond the policy and increase the Obama policy harms refugees, but it only increases an existing discriminatory policy, it doesn’t invent it. Reading media reports you would never know that. Most disingenuous, truly bordering on fake news, are the reports that claimed the seven countries were connected to Trump business interests, as if Obama’s DHS picked them because of Trump?
So why didn’t anyone of the thousands of reporters covering this read the same document and ask the same question and do the same investigation of where the seven “countries of concern” came from? A simply Google search would have revealed the history. A bit of searching around US code would have explained it.
The public should be suspicious of Trump’s policies and the media should speak truth to power and demand answers from the administration. But the media should also be truthful with the public and instead of claiming Trump singled out seven countries, it should note that the US Congress and Obama’s Department of Homeland Security had singled out these countries. It should have told us about theTerrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 rather than pretend this list was invented in 2017. Trump’s executive order said “countries of concern,” it didn’t make a list. That list was already made, last year and years before.