U of M expert: Trump, Obama refugee bans very different

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Trump signs executive order on extreme vetting
President Donald Trump, center, with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, watching, signs an executive action on extreme vetting at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017.
Susan Walsh | AP

President Donald Trump says his controversial executive order on immigrants and refugees is similar to what President Barack Obama ordered in 2011, but that comparison is baseless, says a former Obama administration official now at the University of Minnesota.

"It's not based on any analysis or facts," Eric Schwartz, current dean of the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, told MPR News host Tom Crann on Tuesday. "It comes from an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant animus, and nothing more than that."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, 900,000 refugees have resettled in the U.S., he noted. "And there's not one case of an American death as a result of a terrorist action by refugees resettled in the United States. The chance of an American being killed by an immigrant is about 1 in 3.5 million per year. Infinitesimal."

Trump has said his executive order is comparable to Obama's six-month ban on Iraqi refugees in 2011, and the seven Muslim-majority nations in the executive order were identified as countries of concern by the Obama administration.

But the Washington Post wrote that claim falls short.

Refugee resettlement did slow for several months during that period as government agencies beefed up security measures, but "President Obama never imposed a ban on Iraqi processing; President Trump's statement is wrong," said Schwartz, who served in the United States State Department in 2011 as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.

"As we identified new and useful opportunities to enhance screenings, we did so, and nobody should object to that," he said. "But it really is disreputable to use that as pretext to effectively to shut down a program that is overwhelming safe."

Legislation passed by Congress in 2015 did identify those seven nations as exceptions to the U.S. visa waiver program, Schwartz said. If citizens from eligible visa waiver countries visited one of those seven countries and then sought entry into the U.S., they'd need to apply for visas.

"It was a precautionary measure," Schwartz added. "It certainly didn't bar the entry of such people. It was a relatively modest measure to ensure a greater degree of security. But nobody anticipated it would become the basis for this broad executive order that President Trump has used. The connection makes no sense."