President Donald Trump issued a statement on Sunday arguing that his executive order banning citizens of seven countries from the United States is not a “Muslim ban,” as it has been widely termed.
Trump’s order bans travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and bans refugee admissions for 120 days. Under the order, Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.
Trump — and some congressional Republicans — are arguing that it is not a Muslim ban because there are many Muslim majority countries that are not on the list.
This is true: there are many Muslim majority countries that are not Trump’s list of banned travelers — including all of the Muslim-majority countries where Trump does business. The list includes none of the countries from which the 9/11 hijackers originated, despite the fact that Trump specifically invoked 9/11 multiple times while signing the order.
The executive order he signed on Friday, however, arbitrarily bans millions of Muslims from the United States. And while it may not be the exact blanket ban he first promised, it’s still an evolution of his call to ban all Muslims from the United States.
Trump’s Muslim ban proposal during the campaign
On December 7th, 2015, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of the entry of Muslims to the United States.”
“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” President Trump said in the press release, implying that all Muslims must hate the U.S. There’s no evidence to support this claim, though Trump has used this kind of rhetoric for years drum up Islamophobia.
Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, and Muslims make up almost a quarter of the world’s population. There are around 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, according to Pew.
There was widespread outcry against Trump’s campaign proposal, especially because it sounded like a religious test—clearly in violation of the Constitution. Over time, he walked it back, and the full ban evolved into “extreme vetting” for anyone immigrating to the U.S. from “areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe, or our allies.”
But in changing his proposal, Trump made a political concession without making a functional one, as Dara Lind explains for Vox. Banning people from the U.S. based on religion would, in all likelihood, been quickly found unconstitutional. By shifting from focusing on religion to focusing on country of origin, the ban was on much more stable legal ground.
The country ban is a fig leaf for a Muslim ban—and Trump’s own surrogates are starting to confirm as much. This Saturday, prominent Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani told Fox News in an interview that Trump called him and asked him how to legally implement his proposed Muslim ban when he first announced it.
“I’ll tell you the whole history of it: When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban,’” Giuliani said on Fox News. “He called me up, he said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’”
“What we did was we focused on, instead of religion: danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible.”
In addition to Giuliani telling Fox that the current order is the legal evolution of Trump’s original proposal, since Trump signed the executive order Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s National Security Adviser, has tweeted twice about Trump’s “Muslim ban.”
He has shut down his twitter account since tweeting about the Muslim ban.
(Editor’s note: ThinkProgress has also adopted a policy of describing the policy as Muslim ban, in recognition of its intended effects.)
Trump’s ban initially shut out green card and visa holders
The language of Trump’s original executive order is broad, and as such affects green card holders and people who already have visas from the seven banned countries from entering the country.
The White House was initially firm on this line: Senior officials at DHS at first interpreted Trump’s executive order to exclude green card holders, who are legal, permanent residents of the U.S. The White House overruled them.
Over the weekend, this resulted in travelers and legal residents who were out of the country when Trump signed the order being prevented from boarding planes and being detained on arrival in the U.S., under threat of deportation.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement on Sunday clarifying that green card holders returning to the U.S. may be let in on a case-by-case basis and subjected to extra screening.
“Lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations,” said Kelly.
For green card holders, the shift from being able to come and go freely to a promise of “case-by-case” system is unlikely to be reassuring.
The broad nature of Trump’s order, however, is yet another call back to his original Muslim ban.
When the ban was initially proposed, Trump’s spokeswomen Hope Hicks said that, according to Trump, the Muslim ban would include “everyone” — meaning that Muslim green-card holders and Muslim-American citizens living abroad would also be banned from entry.
Trump later said that Muslim-American citizens would be able to come back: “They are a citizen, that is different,” he said on Good Morning America. Green card holders and current visa holders already in the country, however, are not citizens.
Trump’s order would give preference to Christian refugees
Trump’s order suspends refugee admissions for 120 days, during which he’s ordered a review of the process “to determine what additional procedures should be taken.”
The vetting process for refugees resettled in the United States is already extremely extensive, typically taking from 18 to 24 months and winding through several national and international government and security agencies. Refugees also don’t get to choose what country they go to — that decision is made by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
When refugee admissions are resumed (which will still exclude Syrian refugees), however, Trump’s order directs that non-Muslims be given priority (emphasis added by ThinkProgress).
“Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”
Trump said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday that he believes Christians have a harder time being admitted to the U.S. as refugees.
“Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible” Trump said. “And I thought it was very, very unfair.”
There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Christians were previously discriminated against in the process, and the U.S. has admitted Syrian Christians since it began admitting Syrian refugees, counter to Trump’s claim that it was “almost impossible.”
Trump’s Muslim ban
Trump’s statement on Sunday blamed the widespread outcry against his Muslim ban on the media.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” he said.
To recap: Trump campaigned on a promise of a Muslim ban. On Friday, he signed an executive order that broadly excludes millions of travelers from seven majority Muslim countries and orders that of those majority-Muslim countries, non-Muslim refugees be given preference for resettlement.
After Trump signed the order, spontaneous protests broke out in cities and airports across the U.S., as thousands of people crowded in and and around airports to welcome travelers and protest against their detainment.
Trump, meanwhile, angrily tweeted that the coverage of him in the New York Times and Washington Post — which was largely focused on the negative repercussions of the ban — was “fake news.”