President Obama Banned Refugees from Iraq in 2011-Mostly Fiction!

President Obama Banned Refugees from Iraq in 2011-Mostly Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:
President Obama banned refugees from Iraq from entering the country for six months in 2011 and there was no public backlash like that seen in response to President Trump’s executive action on immigration in January 2017.
The Truth:
President Obama ordered a slowdown of processing Iraqi Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) in 2011 to tweak screening processes — but those admitted on SIVs are not considered “refugees” under federal immigration laws.
Comparisons between President Trump’s executive order on immigration that impacted all immigrants and refugees from seven countries, and President Obama’s action impacting Iraqi SIVs started almost immediately; Trump drew parallels between the two actions in a statement released with his January 26th executive order on immigration:

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say. My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. 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….

And, while arguments can be made that the Trump and Obama’s action on immigration have at least some similarities — the specific claim that Obama banned Iraqi refugees for six months in 2011 is false.

The Obama administration’s action impacted the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Iraqi program, which was established under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008 to provide Iraqi nationals who worked on behalf of the government entry int0 the United States. Most commonly, the SIV program was designed for interpreters and other locals providing support to U.S. troops.

But the SIV program ran into problems in 2011. Two Iraqi nationals who’d entered the country as refugees under the program were arrested in Kentucky and pleaded guilty to engaging in terrorist activities in federal court in December 2011.  The situation resulted in debate about how to prosecute terrors suspects in the U.S. court system, and how to vet applicants entering the country on SIVs.

The Obama administration announced a slowdown in the processing of SIVs while the State Department tweaked the review and vetting process for applicants. By March 2012, the Obama administration announced that the tweaks had been completed and that it would begin awarding more SIVs, USA Today reports:

The slowdown in processing SIVs started not long before two Iraqi refugees who resettled in the United States in 2009 were arrested in May in Bowling Green, Ky., and accused of plotting to send weapons and cash to al-Qaida in Iraq. The administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, says intelligence indicates the threat was much broader than the two refugees. Neither of the men in the Kentucky plot had worked for the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Authorities learned of the Kentucky plot through intelligence gleaned in late 2010, the official said.

Possibly the biggest difference between the action taken by Trump and Obama is that Obama’s action pertained only to those admitted to the country on Iraqi SIVs — which are not considered “refugees” under immigration law, the Congressional Research Service reports:

Unlike special immigrants, refugees comprise a category of humanitarian admissions under the INA.38 As defined in the INA, a refugee is a person who is unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 39 Refugees accepted for admission to the United States can be accompanied by their spouses and children. The admissions process for refugees is separate from and different than the process for immigrants. After one year in refugee status, they are required to apply to adjust to LPR status.40 By contrast, special immigrants, like immigrants generally, are granted LPR status upon admission to the United States.

But there are some general similarities between Trump and Obama’s action on immigration. Both actions were temporary, both actions were geared to review and tweak vetting of immigrants, and both actions pertained, at least generally, to Iraqis. However, the biggest difference between the two is that Obama’s action did not directly impact refugees, and Obama’s action slowed down processing of Iraqi SIVs, it didn’t “ban” it. Trump’s action, on the other hand, instituted a temporary “ban” on all immigration, including refugees, from specific countries.

Given all that, we’re calling claims that President Obama banned Iraqi refugee for six months in 2011 “mostly fiction.”