Feb 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The evolution of Trump's Muslim ban

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Donald Trump's campaign call for all Muslims to be barred from entering the United States has morphed over the past three years into a complex web of travel and immigration restrictions placed, to varying degrees, on 7% of the world's population.

The big picture: While most eyes were on impeachment and Iowa, President Trump recently extended restrictions to six additional countries — widening the ban and ignoring the massive outcry it has created.

Driving the news: The Trump administration recently announced restrictions on permanent immigration for people from Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.

  • While Myanmar has a relatively small Muslim population (4%), the populations of the other five are between 30% Muslim (Tanzania) and 86% (Kyrgyzstan), according to the Pew Research Center.
  • Unlike previous iterations of Trump's travel ban, the new policy will still allow all short-term travel to the U.S.
  • It could still have detrimental impacts on families and economies — particularly in Nigeria, as the New York Times reported.

Flashback: Trump first announced a travel ban — labeled by many as a "Muslim ban" — in his first week in office.

  • It would have barred entry to refugees and immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries.
  • Mass chaos and large protests followed in airports across the country as refugees and travelers who had just arrived were told to return to their home countries.
  • The ban was temporarily blocked by a federal court, which began a more than year-long struggle between federal judges and the administration.
  • In June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld an amended version of Trump's ban.
  • The final version blocked most immigrants and many travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

It's had a dramatic impact. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of permanent visas given every month to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen fell by 72%, according to Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

  • Collectively, those countries are more than 92% Muslim.
  • Short-term visas granted to Iranians fell from 1,650 per month in FY 2017 to 501 the following year, according to MPI.

The backstory: Trump reacted to the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. in December 2015 by promoting false stories about Muslims celebrating on 9/11, mocking Hillary Clinton for refusing to use the term "radical Islamic," and then proposing the Muslim ban.

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” 
— Trump on Dec. 7, 2015 at a rally in South Carolina
  • Trump's proposal was condemned by rivals in both parties but broadly popular with Republican primary voters. He shifted to a call for "extreme vetting" ahead of the general election.

The bottom line: Trump has not blocked all Muslims from entering America — not even close.

  • But you can draw a straight line from his campaign promise to the immigration policies his administration is now implementing.

Go deeper: The world's Muslims are facing unprecedented repression

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