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World

Immigration Expert Outlines Origins Of 7 Countries In Trump Order

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At today's press briefing, Sean Spicer defended President Trump's executive order temporarily restricting travel from seven countries, and specifically he talked about how the administration chose those countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: This is a national security issue. These seven countries were derived from what the Obama administration had deemed as needing further travel restriction.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Again, those seven countries are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. And about that Obama restriction Spicer mentioned...

CORNISH: It was part of a program known as the Visa Waiver Program. A little background here - that allowed citizens of 38 countries to travel and do business here in the U.S. without a visa.

RUTH WASEM: And the nationals of these countries, if you look through the 38, are close allies to the United States and countries seen as having very secure screening procedures in their own country.

CORNISH: That's Professor Ruth Wasem. She teaches immigration policy at the University of Texas in Austin, and she worked as a policy expert at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service for 25 years.

SHAPIRO: Wasem says after terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in late 2015, Obama signed a law tightening up the Visa Waiver Program. The exemption from visa requirements no longer applied to people who are either dual citizens of or had traveled to, quote, "countries of concern." The worry was that someone who had traveled to one of these places might have become radicalized.

WASEM: You couldn't enter through the Visa Waiver Program if you were from one of these countries or had traveled to one of these countries, but you could seek a visa and go through the standard process with a personal interview and a full national security background check.

SHAPIRO: Those seven countries of concern are the same ones in Trump's executive order.

CORNISH: But Wasem says the Obama administration's policy wasn't nearly as restrictive as Trump's.

WASEM: So it didn't bar the entry of individuals. It just subjected them to the full-blown security process. And what - as I understand, President Trump's executive order bars travel.

CORNISH: So as press secretary Spicer says, the new rules do affect the same countries, but they affect them in very different ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB SONG, "I CAN FEEL IT HUMMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.