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Is Donald Trump's executive order a 'Muslim ban'?

Protesters and immigrants rights advocates gathered at Castle Clinton National Monument, the physical departure and arrival point for tours of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. (AP) Protesters and immigrants rights advocates gathered at Castle Clinton National Monument, the physical departure and arrival point for tours of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. (AP)

Protesters and immigrants rights advocates gathered at Castle Clinton National Monument, the physical departure and arrival point for tours of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 3, 2017

While campaigning for president days after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Donald Trump called 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."

That statement and others helped lead to sharp partisan attacks when Trump, a week after his inauguration, issued an executive order that triggered protests at airports nationwide. The Jan. 27, 2017 order temporarily prohibits from entering the United States virtually all people traveling on passports from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

(On Feb. 3, 2017, a week after the order was issued, a federal judge in Seattle blocked the seven-nations ban with a restraining order.)

Each of the seven countries covered by the order are majority-Muslim.

But they are also the only seven countries that were targeted by an anti-terrorism law, cited in the executive order, that was signed by President Barack Obama.

Which leaves the question, raised in statements by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and others: Is Trump’s order a "Muslim ban"?

It is (for Muslims in those seven countries) and it isn’t (for the vast majority of Muslims who live elsewhere).

So, we decided not to rate this on the Truth-O-Meter. But here’s a look at how the order affects Muslims and how it relates to fighting terrorism.

The order

The order suspended for 120 days entry of all refugees -- those who want to resettle in the United States -- and barred refugees from Syria indefinitely. That’s in addition to the 90-day prohibition imposed on citizens of the seven countries with any type of visa, including tourists or those coming on business.

The order invokes the 9/11 terrorist attacks and says that to protect Americans, the United States should not admit "those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law."

Trump has responded to criticism by saying his policy "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."

Let’s look first at how the executive order relates to Muslims, then to terrorism.


We’ll begin by noting that the order does not affect most Muslims. According to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, there are 49 majority-Muslim nations and the seven covered by the order have only about 12 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

Nevertheless, there is some basis for viewing the order as targeting Muslims.

Trump called for Muslim ban: Trump continued to make statements about a Muslim ban well after the San Bernardino attack.

  • In a March 2016 CNN interview, there was this exchange between Trump and host Anderson Cooper -- Cooper: "I guess the question is, is there a war between the west and radical Islam or between the west and Islam itself?" Trump: "Well, it's radical, but it's very hard to define. It's very hard to separate because you don't know who is who."

  • In June 2016, after a terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla., Trump reiterated his call for a temporary Muslim ban, saying in a speech: "I called for a ban after San Bernardino, and was met with great scorn and anger, but now many are saying I was right to do so." But he also said he would suspend immigration from areas "where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies."

(U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the time: "I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country's interest," adding: "I think the smarter way to go in all respects is to have a security test, not a religious test.")

Ban shifted to ‘territories’: The next month, in July 2016, Trump shifted his rhetoric in two interviews. His statements -- and one later by a Trump ally -- left the impression Trump was seeking a Muslim ban by a different means.

  • Reminded that his running mate, Mike Pence, once called a Muslim ban unconstitutional, Trump responded: "So you call it territories. OK? We’re gonna do territories."

  • Asked whether that approach was a "rollback" of his position, Trump said no, adding: "You could say it's an expansion. I'm looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can't use the word ‘Muslim.’"

  • After the order took effect, Trump supporter and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was asked how Trump decided on the seven countries. Giuliani said: "So when he first announced it, he said, 'Muslim ban.' He called me up. He said, 'Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’ ... 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."

Trump’s statements evidently were pivotal for Sally Yates, whom Trump fired as acting attorney general after she instructed the Justice Department not to defend the executive order. A letter she wrote showed she was bothered by the focus on majority-Muslim countries. And the New York Times, citing senior officials, reported that Yates "became convinced, based on the president’s own statements, that he had intended to unlawfully single out Muslims."

So, Trump’s order does not explicitly ban travel to the United States by Muslims. But it came after he himself had pushed a Muslim ban and it applies only to seven nations that are majority-Muslim.


Now let’s look at how Trump’s order relates to terrorism.

Obama’s list of seven: The order singles out the same seven countries that were singled out in an anti-terrorism law signed by Obama, although the travel restrictions in the two measures are different.

The law signed in December 2015 by Obama applies to countries designated by the United States as having "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism." Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen (the same seven countries in Trump’s order) have that designation.

The law says anyone who has traveled to those countries since March 2011 can’t use what is known as the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. But, unlike Trump’s order, under that law people not eligible for the waiver program could still enter the United States with a visa.

Threats from other nations: The order does not apply, however, to nations that have produced people who have committed more acts of terrorism in America.

  • 9/11 attacks: The order cites as part of its rationale the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But most of the 19 hijackers on the planes were from Saudi Arabia; the rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon.

  • PolitiFact National found that according to New America, a think tank compiling information on terrorist activities in the United States since 9/11, 94 people have been killed by jihadists, but the large majority of the attackers have been American citizens or legal residents. And experts on terrorism say that since 9/11, no one in the United States has been killed in a terrorist attack by someone from the seven countries, though there have been at least three non-deadly cases in which the perpetrator was connected to Iran or Somalia.

  • Going back further, the libertarian Cato Institute found that from 1975 through 2015, 17 people born in the seven nations were convicted of carrying out or attempting to carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil and they killed no people. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt -- which are not on the list of seven -- are the countries where the deadliest terrorists came to the United States from, accounting for 94.1 percent of all American deaths in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil committed by the foreign-born.

In summary

The order does not specifically bar Muslims. It applies only to citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Those seven countries have only 12 percent of the world’s Muslims and Muslims from other countries can still enter the United States.

But each of the seven is majority-Muslim. And the order follows not only repeated statements Trump made during his presidential campaign specifically calling for a Muslim ban, but subsequent statements he made about finding a legal means for the executive order.

And although Trump says the order is aimed at protecting America from terrorism, and the seven targeted countries have been singled out for supporting terrorism , no one in the United States has been killed in a terrorist attack by someone from the seven countries.

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Our Sources

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, press release, Jan. 30, 2017

Email, Ron Kind communications director Amanda Sherman, Jan. 31, 2017

The White House, "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States" executive order, Jan. 27, 2017

Facebook, Donald Trump statement on executive order on "extreme vetting," Jan. 29, 2017

PolitiFact National, "Trump’s immigration ban: 4 key questions answered," Jan. 29, 2017

PolitiFact National, "No terrorist attacks post 9/11 by people from countries in Trump's travel ban?" Jan. 29, 2017

PolitiFact National, "Democratic senator: Fixes to immigration system might already be on the books," Jan. 18, 2017

PolitiFact National, "Why comparing Trump's and Obama's immigration restrictions is flawed," Jan. 30, 2017

PolitiFact National, "U.S. would be only country with religious test at border under Trump, Clinton says," Sept. 2, 2016

USA Today, "What you need to know about Trump's immigration plan," Jan. 28, 2017

New York Times, "President Trump’s Immigration Order, Annotated," Jan. 28, 2017

Vox, "Trump’s ‘refugee ban’ — annotated by a former top Department of Homeland Security lawyer," Jan. 30, 2017

Cato Institute, "Guide to Trump’s Executive Order to Limit Migration for ‘National Security’ Reasons," Jan. 26, 2017

Snopes, "Wherever visa is accepted," Jan. 30, 2017

Donald Trump campaign, statement, Dec. 7, 2015

Donald Trump campaign, speech, June 13, 2016

YouTube, clip of Donald Trump speech, Dec. 7, 2015

The Guardian, "Is this a Muslim ban? Trump's executive order explained," Jan. 31, 2017

Washington Post, "Republicans insist this isn’t a ‘Muslim ban.’ Trump and Giuliani aren’t helping their cause at all," Jan. 30, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ryan again strikes different tone than Trump on Muslims," June 14, 2016

Associated Press, "Trump claims on travel ban misleading, wrong," Jan. 30, 2017

Slate, "Of Course It’s a Muslim Ban," Jan. 31, 2017

National Review, "Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees — Separating Fact from Hysteria," Jan. 28, 2017

Salon, "President Trump’s executive order on Muslims is a ban, no matter what Sean Spicer says," Feb. 1, 2017

Reason, "Is Trump's #MuslimBan a Muslim Ban?" Jan. 30, 2017

Huffington Post, text of Sally Yates letter, Jan. 31, 2017

Pew Research Center, "World’s Muslim population more widespread than you might think," Jan. 31, 2017

Breitbart, "Seven Inconvenient Facts About Trump’s Refugee Actions," Jan. 29, 2017

University of Michigan Center for the Education of Women, "Muslim-Majority Countries Comprising the Islamic World," accessed Feb. 1, 2017

CBS News, "60 Minutes" transcript, July 17, 2016

The Atlantic, "What Trump's Executive Order on Immigration Does—and Doesn't Do," Jan. 30, 2017

Christian Broadcasting Network, "Brody File Exclusive: President Trump Says Persecuted Christians Will Be Given Priority As Refugees," Jan. 27, 2017

NBC News, "Meet the Press" transcript, July 24, 2016

New York Times, "Trump’s Talk About Muslims Led Acting Attorney General to Defy Ban," Jan. 31, 2017

CNN, Donald Trump interview, March 9, 2016

National Review, "It’s Time for Honest Talk about Muslim Immigration," Nov. 30, 2016

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry To The United States," Jan. 30, 2017

U.S. State Department, "Visa Waiver Program," accessed Feb. 1, 2017, H.R.158 - Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, accessed Feb. 2, 2017

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Is Donald Trump's executive order a 'Muslim ban'?