Ji Seong-ho, who escaped North Korea even after being hit by a train and losing an arm and a leg, triumphantly wielded his crutches from the audience of Tuesday’s State of the Union address as President Donald Trump sung his praises.
Had the speech taken place only a few months ago, however, Ji’s presence would have highlighted the inability of fellow North Koreans to come directly to the U.S. since Trump imposed a travel ban against the country, among others. (As a defector to South Korea, Ji now has citizenship in the latter country.)
“Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all,” Trump said in his speech. “Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”
Trump’s third attempt at a travel ban, signed in September, prevented nationals from eight countries, including North Korea, from entering the U.S. in what the administration justified as an attempt to enhance information-sharing among countries and enforce stricter vetting. An announcement about intensified background checks on refugees from 11 countries, put in place in October, also reportedly included North Korea.
According to the presidential memo, the rogue regime “does not cooperate with the United States Government in any respect and fails to satisfy all information-sharing requirements.”
North Korea was somewhat of an outlier on the travel ban list, which, aside from Venezuela included only Muslim-majority countries. The most plausible explanation for North Korea’s inclusion is the nuclear threat it poses to the U.S. Trump has escalated that threat, repeatedly warning of North Korea’s destruction and demanding China’s assistance in discrediting the regime.
Trump toned down his own bellicose rhetoric Tuesday night, describing his strategy as “waging a campaign of maximum pressure” to prevent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from acquiring nuclear capabilities. What he conveniently left out was the option of a pre-emptive nuclear strike that his administration has reportedly been considering.
Federal judges in two states temporarily halted the travel ban in October. The Supreme Court is expected to take up the case this year. Meanwhile, refugee admissions resumed Monday, albeit with enhanced security measures still directed at 11 countries.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated one version of Trump’s travel ban would have banned Ji from entering the U.S. While the ban is on North Korean nationals, Ji now has South Korean citizenship.