POLITICS
01/31/2017 04:28 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2017

The White House Said 109 People Were Inconvenienced By Trump's Travel Ban. That's Not True.

More than 1,000 legal permanent residents had to get waivers before entering the U.S.

WASHINGTON ― The White House dramatically understated the effect of President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and certain foreign nationals with its claim that only 109 people were “slowed down” by the ban. In reality, 10 times that number were forced to obtain special waivers before entering the country in the first few days of Trump’s action. 

As of 3 p.m. Monday, 1,059 legal permanent residents and 75 other visa holders were granted waivers and allowed to enter the United States in the wake of Trump’s order, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday. That’s not counting the millions of people barred from the U.S. based on their nationality, or an estimated 20,000 refugees excluded because of the order. 

The White House has repeatedly cited a figure that, according to other government officials, applies only to individuals detained in the first few hours after Trump on Friday signed the order to temporarily bar all refugees and nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the president himself have repeatedly referred to 109 people who were detained upon entering the United States.

“I think it’s a shame that people were inconvenienced, obviously. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about a couple hours,” Spicer told reporters on Monday. “I’m sorry that some folks may have had to wait a little while.”

The 109 figure applies “to the initial hours and the folks that were in transit to the U.S. when the executive order came about,” Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said at a press briefing on Tuesday. On Monday, when Spicer began using the 109 figure, the government would have only had numbers from the previous day. 

That means Spicer and the president downplayed the disruption created by the executive order by counting the number of people affected in its early hours, omitting legal permanent residents and others with valid visas who have been “inconvenienced” in the time since. 

There’s a clear reason to do so. Along with the many members of the public who protested the orders, a number of Republicans have expressed concern about the fact that legal permanent residents and certain other visa holders, including Iraqis who assisted American troops, were blocked from entering the U.S. That controversy led DHS to announce it would make case-by-case exceptions for people in those categories. 

On Tuesday, a reporter asked Spicer about the more than 1,100 people who received waivers, ostensibly making them among those affected by the order. Spicer said that there was no discrepancy with his number, and that DHS was referring to “the number of people who weren’t allowed to board a plane coming in, so they were stopped at their port of entry, had to get additional clearance and then take off.”

That doesn’t correspond with what McAleenan said. Even for waivers, he said legal permanent residents and special immigrant visa holders were allowed to board their flights and were processed for waivers upon arrival.

An additional 721 foreign nationals were blocked from boarding planes as a result of the order, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Other evidence indicates the 109 figure cited by the White House was inaccurate when Spicer began using it on Monday. According to an internal DHS email obtained by The Daily Beast, between 200 and 250 people were denied entry to the U.S. after their flights landed, out of 735 people who came under Customs and Border Protection scrutiny because the executive order might have applied to them. All but two were admitted, according to The Daily Beast.

The White House declined to comment for this story. 

Ultimately, none of the figures thrown out so far count the millions of people overall who are affected by the executive order.

The government will make exceptions for 872 refugees to resettle in the U.S. before Thursday, officials said.   

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