(CNSNews.com) – Defending President Trump on the British election campaign trail, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has drawn attention to the fact that the presidential travel proclamation -- which critics call a “Muslim ban” -- was built on security concerns determined under the Obama administration.
Trump is regularly condemned for the policy which in its current form restricts entry to certain nationals of five Muslim-majority and two non-Muslim-majority countries.
During an ITV debate Sunday featuring leaders or representatives from the seven main parties, Labour shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon – standing in for party leader Jeremy Corbyn – raised the “Muslim ban” while answering a question about the U.S.-U.K. relationship.
“Look at the Muslim ban that Trump brought in, look at the caging of migrant children, look at the way he threatens war, and of course, he wants to conspire with [Conservative Party leader and prime minister] Boris Johnson and the leader of the Brexit Party in order to get his fat-cat friends to have access to our National Health Service,” Burgon said.
“Just not true,” Farage interjected. “Just not true. Just lies, open lies.”
When given the chance to respond, Farage noted that countries cited in Trump’s travel proclamation had been identified as security risks during President Obama’s administration.
“Well, Obama brought in the so-called ‘Muslim ban,’ but no-one criticized him. He was the one that named the seven countries where a total stop on anyone coming into America should come from,” he said. “Trump implemented it.”
Farage went on to defend Trump more broadly.
“Look, Donald Trump’s style is very American. It may not be to everybody’s tastes. But just think about this: He is our most important friend in the world, and at a time – at a time of huge global uncertainty, we should think about not just trade with America, but security. And making sure that NATO is not destroyed by the European Union. These things really matter.”
(He also called “the biggest lie of this entire election campaign” the claim that Trump wants to buy Britain’s National Health Service.)
The countries featuring in Trump’s travel proclamation, as upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2018, are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – all Muslim-majority countries – as well as North Korea and Venezuela.
Restrictions vary, and not all citizens of all seven countries are affected. For example, Iranians on student and exchange visitor visas may enter the U.S.; Somali non-immigrant visitors are not forbidden to enter, although extra vetting applies; and the Venezuelan restrictions apply only to certain Maduro regime officials and immediate family members.
Terrorism ‘countries of concern’
In drawing attention to the origins of the terrorism concerns, Farage stated incorrectly that under Obama there was a “total stop” on entry for citizens of the seven countries.
Firstly, the seven-country lists overlapped but were not identical. In Obama’s case, the seven countries identified by the Department of Homeland Security as giving rise to legitimate terrorism concerns were Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen (the same five Muslim countries identified by Trump), as well as two other Muslim-majority countries, Iraq and Sudan.
Secondly, citizens of those seven countries were not prevented from entry altogether, but – under legislation signed by Obama in late 2015 – they were required to undergo additional security vetting.
Despite accusations that Trump has unfairly targeted the targeted countries, all five of the Muslim ones cited in his proclamation – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – were identified as terrorism “countries of concern” by the Obama administration.
Under the visa waiver program (VWP), citizens of 38 specified countries are able to visit the U.S. without applying in advance for a visitor visa. (Instead an Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA obtained online usually secures them admission at a port of entry.)
The Obama modifications meant that, with effect from January 2016, any citizen of a VWP country who also held citizenship of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, could no longer travel to the U.S. under the VWP, but would have to go through the more rigorous application process required of nationals of non-VWP countries.
The same restriction applied to VWP country citizens who had merely traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria, on or after March 1, 2011.
One month later, restrictions were extended to cover Libya, Somalia and Yemen, making a total of seven Muslim-majority countries affected.
Despite the “Muslim ban” label, Trump’s proclamation in its current form applies to most citizens of just five of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the bloc of mostly Muslim-majority nations, and just four of the 22 members of the Arab League.
The five countries together have a population of around 132 million, or about eight percent of the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims.
The 52 OIC members not affected by the proclamation include the world’s most populous Muslim countries, among them Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey. Those six countries together account for more than half of the world’s Muslims.
Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would terminate Trump’s travel proclamations and limit the authority of the executive branch “to suspend or restrict the entry of a class of aliens.”
The bill introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) last April has been co-sponsored by 204 of the 233 Democrats in the House.
The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), has among its 36-sponsors all six senators still in the 2020 presidential race – Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).