President Donald Trump's temporary ban on immigration from the Middle East is drawing comparisons to a move President Jimmy Carter made in the spring of 1980, which put strict restrictions on Iranian immigration during the infamous hostage crisis.
“This is nothing new,” Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk. who represents Georgia's 11th congressional district, said in a recent interview with WABE about Trump’s ban, “This isn’t like something that P resident Trump just pulled out of a hat. This has been standard operating practice for many presidents when we have a serious threat from a combative nation.”
In April 1980, when Carter spoke to reporters at the White House, the hostages had been held at the U.S. embassy in Teheran for months. Carter announced economic sanctions, ordered Iranian diplomats to leave the country, and blocked Iranian citizens from getting visas.
“We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly,” Carter said.
“The steps I have ordered today are those that are necessary now. Other action may become necessary if these steps do not produce the prompt release of the hostages,” he said.
Religious and political persecution in Iran would be viewed as “valid humanitarian reasons,” according to a state department officials cited at the time by the Washington Post. Asylum seekers wouldn’t be forced to leave the country, the officials told The Post.
While there are some similarities between the immigration restrictions imposed by the two presidents, there are more differences, said Michael Gunter, a political science professor at Tennessee Technological University who focuses on U.S.-Middle East relations.
Gunter said Carter’s order was clearly a response to one specific threat, with a number of U.S. citizens directly at risk.
“The United States did not have a whole lot of pressure that it was possible to put on Iran,” said Gunter, and restricting immigration would hopefully “make Iran reconsider what it was doing and release the hostages.”
Trump’s order blocks travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia, for 90 days. It also suspends new-refugees admissions for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.
In some ways, Carter’s order was harsher than Trump’s. Iranians were turned away from foreign airports, but after Carter’s order, Iranian students were required to report to immigration offices. Thousands were ordered to leave because their visas were outdated.
“Their whole career was put on hold or even thrown into the garbage can because, would they ever be allowed to come back?” said Gunter.
One big difference between the two immigration orders may be the public response. Gunter said Americans were almost unanimously behind Carter’s restrictions on Iranian visas.