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WHITE HOUSE — As the White House continues to defend President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry to refugees and people from seven Muslim majority countries, former President Barack Obama has opposed it in his first statement since leaving the White House.
Obama’s spokesperson, Kevin Lewis, issued a statement rejecting any comparison of his foreign policy to Trump’s ban.
“The president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”
The Trump administration says the travel ban is not directed against any religion, adding that the seven countries selected are on State Department lists compiled during the Obama administration, either as state sponsors of terror, or as countries that harbor terrorists.
In Obama’s statement, Lewis said the former president is “heartened” by the level of engagement taking place in communities across the country, saying protests are “exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.”
This is the first time the former president has criticized the new president, who has been in office for 10 days. In his last news conference before leaving office, Obama said he would only weigh in on his successor if he felt core values were at stake, such as freedom of the press and voting rights.
White House Defends Ban
At Monday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer strongly defended the travel ban, saying the attack on a mosque in Quebec, Canada that killed six people shows why the president wants to be pro-active instead of reactive on threats to national security. Spicer said that only 109 people were detained on Saturday and Sunday for additional screening, calling it an “inconvenience,” and adding:
“Look, coming into this country is still a privilege; we’re the greatest country on earth and being able to come to America is a privilege and not a right and it is our duty and it is the president’s goal to make sure that everybody that comes into this country, to the best of our ability, is here because they want to enjoy this country and come in peacefully.
Spicer said the executive order issued Friday was not in response to any specific threat, but that the president wants to get out ahead of any potential threats.
The order includes a 120-day suspension of refugee admissions and a 90-day entry ban for people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.
The implementation led to confusion, particularly at the nation’s airports, where in some cases people holding green cards as permanent legal residents were detained for extra questioning before being allowed entry.
Attempts to Clarify Policy
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement Sunday seeking to clarify the policy, saying he deems “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.”
In a separate statement, the Department of Homeland Security said the government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if necessary for national security. That followed an emergency order by federal court in New York temporarily barring the deportation of people who arrive at U.S. airports with a valid visa or an approved refugee application.
Judge Ann Donnelly wrote, “There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations” who are subject to the president’s order.
Trump has repeatedly called for stricter screening of refugees, and the senior administration official who briefed reporters Sunday described the previous system as “woefully inadequate.”
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, refugees were required to undergo security checks, including strict vetting by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and extensive interviews before they were allowed into the country. For many refugees, the process took up to two years to complete.
The ban has sparked outrage and protests both at home and abroad. In the United States, human rights organizations and some churches have issued strong condemnations, calling the ban un-American and cruel.
A number of universities and corporations also have expressed concern about the ban, saying America needs students, scholars and highly valued employees from the countries that are targeted.