There’s little question that President Trump thoroughly botched the rollout of his immigration order on Jan. 27. But so-called fact checkers don’t need to try to tip the scales even further.
“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump said on Jan. 29.
Following the arrest of two Iraqis in Kentucky in May 2011 for terrorism, Obama pledged to re-examine the records of 58,000 Iraqis who had been settled in the United States and the administration imposed more extensive background checks on Iraqi refugees.
“As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News — even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets,” ABC News reported. ABC said that as a result of the visa pause, an “Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays.”
At a congressional hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said a hold had been placed on Iraqi visa applications “…until they could be more stringently vetted to ensure that we’re not letting into the U.S. people who would do Americans harm.”
The Economist reported, “Immigration authorities soon began rechecking all Iraqi refugees in America, reportedly comparing fingerprints and other records with military and intelligence documents in dusty archives. About 1,000 soon-to-be immigrants in Iraq were told that they would not be allowed to board flights already booked. Some were removed from planes. Thousands more Iraqi applicants had to restart the immigration process, because their security clearances expired when the programme stalled.”
The result? The pace of visa approvals slowed to a crawl, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011, telling of an Iraqi who had served as an interpreter for the U.S. military and was unable to secure a visa to the U.S. “…Thousands of former interpreters have been cast adrift, threatened by insurgents as they wait for the federal bureaucracy to act,” The Times reported.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler initially argued that since Obama didn’t announce an actual ban on Iraqi visa applications, but “danced around” the question, what Obama did bore no resemblance to Trump’s order. Kessler said further that Trump’s policy wasn’t the same because because Obama’s policy didn’t prevent green card holders from traveling to the United States (though the Trump administration has since made it clear that green card holders are not affected by Trump’s Executive Order).
So Kessler said the assertion that Trump’s policy was similar to Obama’s action in 2011 “was worthy of at least Two Pinocchios”. The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:
Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)
More disturbing, Kessler later updated his rating to Three Pinochios” in light of new information”.
The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:
Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions. This gets into the realm of “mostly false.” But it could include statements which are technically correct (such as based on official government data) but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.
Kessler said his revised rating was based on statements by two former Obama Administration officials, as though they should be the final word. One of those officials said there was no ban on Iraqi refugee admissions under Obama because although there were processing delays, but here was was no single month during which no Iraqis arrived in the U.S.
Another former Obama Administration official said there may have been “a lower level of Iraqi resettlement” for a period, “there was never a point during that period in which Iraqi resettlement was stopped, or banned.”
Kessler also reiterated that Trump’s order was different because Obama’s policy did not prevent green-card holders from traveling to the United States. (Again, Trump’s order did not do this either)
Fact check? I don’t think so.
It would have made more sense for Kessler to simply say “In my opinion…” rather than try to disguise himself as an unbiased truth-teller.
The fact is that although Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications by Iraqis, the impact was essentially the same. To say otherwise is a dishonest portrayal of reality and as disingenuous as can be.