Politics & Government

‘American values are at stake’: Obama issues statement after Trump refugee ban

Former president Barack Obama issued a statement on the refugee and immigration ban.
Former president Barack Obama issued a statement on the refugee and immigration ban. AP

A spokesperson for former President Barack Obama released a statement Monday saying “American values are at stake” following President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration.

“President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country,” said Obama spokesperson Kevin Lewis. “Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.”

The statement came after a weekend of chaos and uncertainty regarding the effects of the executive order that suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and stopped travel from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Refugee resettlement for Syrians was suspended indefinitely.

“With regard to comparisons to President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, as we’ve heard before, the president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” Lewis said.

In a statement following national outcry regarding the travel ban, Trump said his executive action was similar to a step Obama took in 2011 in stopping Iraqi refugees from coming to the U.S. for six months. But former Obama administration official Eric Schwartz denied that such a directive was issued.

“President Obama never imposed a six-month ban on Iraqi processing. For several months in 2011, there was a lower level of Iraqi resettlement, as the government implemented certain security enhancements. Indeed, as we identified new and valuable opportunities to enhance screening, we did so,” Schwartz, former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, told the Washington Post. “Nobody should object to a continual effort to identify legitimate enhancements, but it is disreputable to use that as a pretext to effectively shut down a program that is overwhelmingly safe and has enabled the United States to exercise world leadership. In any event, there was never a point during that period in which Iraqi resettlement was stopped, or banned.”

Over the weekend, people were detained at airports around the country who had been en route when Trump signed the order Friday afternoon. They were held and at times denied access to lawyers as airport and administration officials scrambled to untangle who should be admitted to the country. Refugees, who had already undergone and passed an extensive vetting process, risked being sent back to countries they fled. U.S. green card holders, who are legal permanent residents, who were traveling back home were denied entry if they were traveling from one of the seven banned countries.

Protesters gathered at airports across the country as lawyers assembled to assist those in travel limbo. Demonstrators also assembled outside the White House Sunday to protest Trump’s order.