Trump praises North Korean refugees, which he banned from the U.S., in State of the Union

Ji's story, according to Trump, is a "testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom."

A truck loaded with boxes is crossing the border coming from China driving into North Korea as a North Korean border guard is approaching to check.
A truck loaded with boxes is crossing the border coming from China driving into North Korea as a North Korean border guard is approaching to check.

During President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday, he welcomed Ji Seong-ho, an invited guest who endured torture and was able to escape North Korea. Trump ended Ji’s story by stating it was a “testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”

According to Trump’s speech, Ji stole coal from a railroad car as a child. At one point, he grew exhausted from hunger. Ji came to after a train ran over his limbs. He was later tortured by North Korean authorities when he returned from a “brief visit to China,” Trump said in his speech. “His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians.  He had — and he resolved to be free.” Later, Ji was able to escape to South Korea where he now “broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most ‑- the truth.”

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Trump’s glowing praise of Ji appeared to support his ability to get out of a bad situation to “live in freedom” as refugees tend to do. But there’s one hitch. Under a presidential proclamation issued in September 2017, the Trump administration would have restricted travel by people like Ji from North Korea among six other countries. According to that presidential proclamation, “the entry into the United States of nationals of North Korea as immigrants and nonimmigrants is hereby suspended.”

The Trump administration on Monday announced it would once again “resume” refugee admissions from 11 countries previously identified as “high risk,” based on national security claims. But in resuming admissions, the government would also impose additional security enhancements to these countries and accept refugees from these countries on a case-by-case basis after individuals undergo a “deeper vetting” process.

 Similarly, the Trump administration has previously restricted refugee admission from Muslim-majority countries, with his administration taking in 29,022 refugees between January 20 and December 31, 2017 — the lowest number since 2002.