WASHINGTON — The seven Muslim-majority countries targeted in President Trump’s executive order on immigration were initially identified as “countries of concern” under the Obama administration.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Sunday pointed to the Obama administration’s actions as the basis for their selection of the seven countries.
Trump’s order bars citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days.
“There were further travel restrictions already in place from those seven countries,” Spicer said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“What the president did was take the first step through this executive order of ensuring that we’re looking at the entire system of who’s coming in, refugees that are coming in, people who are coming in from places that have a history or that our intelligence suggests that we need to have further extreme vetting for.”
Restrictions from Obama years broadened to a ban
In December 2015, President Obama signed into law a measure placing limited restrictions on certain travelers who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011.
Two months later, the Obama administration added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen to the list, in what it called an effort to address “the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters.”
The restrictions specifically limited what is known as visa-waiver travel by those who had visited one of the seven countries within the specified time period.
People who previously could have entered the United States without a visa were instead required to apply for one if they had traveled to one of the seven countries.
Under the law, dual citizens of visa-waiver countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria could no longer travel to the U.S. without a visa. Dual citizens of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen could, however, still use the visa-waiver program if they hadn’t traveled to any of the seven countries after March 2011.
Trump’s order is much broader. It bans all citizens from those seven countries from entering the U.S. and leaves green card holders subject to being rescreened after visiting those countries.
The executive order specifically invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A senior Trump administration official also pointed to the 2015 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, to justify the President’s orders although neither of the attackers in the shooting would’ve been affected by the new ban.