From "Muslim ban" hypocrisy: Left quiet when Obama also halted visas by Andrew Bolt:

But why was the Left silent when the Obama administration refused to issue visas to Iraqis for six months?

The discovery in 2009 of two al Qaeda-Iraq terrorists living as refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky -- who later admitted in court that they'd attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq -- prompted the bureau to assign hundreds of specialists to an around-the-clock effort aimed at checking its archive of 100,000 improvised explosive devices collected in the war zones, known as IEDs, for other suspected terrorists' fingerprints...

As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets.

Did the Obama administration halt processing of visas for Iraqi refugees?

2 Answers 2


You can find the press release from the Department of Justice announcing the two Iraqis' sentencing here.

Two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Ky., who admitted using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and who attempted to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers, were sentenced today to serve federal prison terms by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

You can also view the archived press release put out by the FBI when the two individuals were charged here.

From an ABC News story published November 2013:

As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News – even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets. One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said. In 2011, fewer than 10,000 Iraqis were resettled as refugees in the U.S., half the number from the year before, State Department statistics show.

From Has America Abandoned an Afghan Interpreter? - The New Yorker, 23 Sept 2013

He couldn’t have known that in February, 2011, the entire S.I.V. program had ground to a halt in Washington, because two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky—neither had had anything to do with the Americans in Iraq—were arrested on terrorism charges. The issuance of visas to Iraqis and Afghans who were already as thoroughly background-checked and fingerprinted and retina-scanned and polygraphed as any applicants in the world, and who had already passed up numerous chances to kill Americans in their own countries, stopped. The White House, the State Department, Homeland Security, and the intelligence agencies tried to come up with a new vetting formula. The interagency gears barely moved. Shinwari waited a year, two years.

I believe the existence of plenty of secondary sources indicate that yes, the Obama administration did halt processing of visas for Iraqi refugees for a period around 6 months in 2011 after evidence had showed that mistakes had been made in how the refugees were being processed. I was not able to find any information from the State Department itself on exact dates for when it began and when it was lifted.

Note: The claim is: processing was halted for Iraqi visas under the Obama administration. My interpretation is that if someone decided to not process Iraqi visas for a given day, that qualifies as a halt to processing. If such a halt itself lasted for a day, I could understand that it could cause a delay in an individual's visa process that is longer than a day. If the halt lasted for around 6 months, it could have caused individuals (such as the one mentioned in the New Yorker) to be delayed for much longer.

Secondary sources published two years later describe it as lasting about 6 months, and does not seem to have ever been referred to as a ban, but that is not what is being claimed.

  • 1
    Is there information on hat happened to the refugees were had their processing stopped, and did it affect all levels of the process?
    – rougon
    Jan 29, 2017 at 13:58
  • 4
    Are there "plenty of secondary sources" all reporting on the ABC report, or "plenty of secondary sources" that independently verify its claims? All the secondary sources that I have seen that say there was a suspension in refugee processing (and not just slower processing) cite the ABC report (which itself cites unnamed officials). Probably worth noting whether this comes from multiple independent sources, or just one.
    – ff524
    Jan 31, 2017 at 8:19
  • @jeff lambert please cite your secondary sources thanks Feb 3, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    @Lee see my update. Feb 3, 2017 at 18:24


While the 2013 ABC report cites unnamed officials as the source, several named Obama officials have since spoken out to challenge this report. Furthermore, data on Iraqi refugees entering the U.S. in 2011 support their claim that the number of refugees admitted was lower than normal, but not suspended entirely for any six-month period in 2011.

Jon Finer, an official in the Obama administration said that there was never any month in 2011 in which there were no Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States. There were periods in which there was a severe delay in processing of refugee claims:

While the flow of Iraqi refugees slowed significantly during the Obama administration’s review, refugees continued to be admitted to the United States during that time, and there was not a single month in which no Iraqis arrived here. In other words, while there were delays in processing, there was no outright ban.

Another Obama administration official, Eric P. Schwartz, said:

President Obama never imposed a six-month ban on Iraqi processing. For several months in 2011, there was a lower level of Iraqi resettlement, as the government implemented certain security enhancements.

A third Obama official, Ben Rhodes, said in a series of tweets (1, 2, 3) that the "pipeline slowed and then picked up again" in 2011:

1/3) There was no 2011 ban on Iraqis. There was no Executive Order. In response to specific threat, additional vetting was added

2/3) This was administrative step taken through full inter-agency - State, DHS, intel community. Pipeline slowed and then picked up again

3/3) More inter-agency vetting of Iraqi refugees in response to threat is standard process. EO banning people from several countries is not

You can check the actual numbers here by generating reports for each month separately, using the first and last date of each month as the date range (and choosing "Iraq" as nationality and "All" for religion). In 2011, the number of Iraqi refugees entering the United States in each month was:

  • January: 1,214
  • Feburary: 779
  • March: 111
  • April: 184
  • May: 418
  • June: 298
  • July: 665
  • August: 1,020
  • September: 824
  • October: 419
  • November: 254
  • December: 153
  • 2
    Excellent answer. Two points that might be clarified. 1) It's possible for processing to be suspended, but approved refugees to be still arriving. However I would expect a six month suspension to halt arrivals at some point. 2) Executive orders are numbered, and so those claiming there was an order should be able to quote the number. Jan 31, 2017 at 14:30
  • NYT reported "In March, just seven were admitted on a so-called special immigrant visa — a class established by Congress to quickly move Iraqis in danger for having helped the American government — and in April, just nine. In some months last year more than 200 arrived on such visas." nytimes.com/2011/07/13/world/middleeast/13baghdad.html
    – DavePhD
    Feb 3, 2017 at 13:06
  • 2
    @Dave Not sure what you're getting at with that?
    – ff524
    Feb 3, 2017 at 15:24

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