Jimmy Starter

Did President Jimmy Carter ban Iranian nationals from entering the U.S. in a manner similar to Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims?

Claim: President Jimmy Carter banned Iranian nationals from entering the U.S. in a manner similar to Donald Trump's proposal to ban the entry of Muslims.


WHAT'S TRUE: President Jimmy Carter announced sanctions against Iran in 1980, including the cancellation of visas for Iranian citizens.

WHAT'S FALSE: Carter's sanctions resembled Trump's suggestion to ban Muslims from entering or immigrating to the U.S.

Example: [Collected via e-mail and Reddit, December 2015]

During the hostage crisis in Iran in the 70's, did Jimmy Carter ban Iranians from entering our country? And how was this temporary ban any different than Trumps suggestion that we halt immigration until things are figured out?


There is a meme going around Facebook right now. I am trying to research it but can't find the full text of the executive orders cited. From what I have been able to find, however (summaries and so forth), it seems like this meme is true. Here is the meme, and my question after it:

How many are aware that President Carter banned Iranians from coming to the US, with the exception of those with a major medical emergency or threat of political persecution? Additionally, between November 1979 and April 1980, 14,768 Iranians (2,204 were students) were removed from the Country. It all happened under executive orders #12172 and 12206.

Since it seems that there is precedent for what Trump is proposing, is it valid that people are upset with him, or are they/we just forgetting history?

Origin:Following the 2 December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump controversially suggested (temporarily) barring all Muslims from entering the United States.  During the ensuing debate over Trump's pronouncement, several web sites said that Trump's suggestion followed a precedent set by President Jimmy Carter barring Iranian nationals from entering the U.S. during the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1980.

One such comparison was made in an 8 December 2015 Frontpage Mag article titled "Carter Banned Iranians from Coming to US During Hostage Crisis: Trump is Just Like Hitler. Or Jimmy Carter," which held that:

Trump is a monster, a madman and a vile racist. He's just like Hitler. Or Jimmy Carter.

During the Iranian hostage crisis, Carter issued a number of orders to put pressure on Iran. Among these, Iranians were banned from entering the United States unless they oppose the Shiite Islamist regime or had a medical emergency.

Apparently barring people from a terrorist country is not against "our values" after all. It may even be "who we are". Either that or Carter was a racist monster just like Trump.

The claim quickly spread online, primarily among people who favored Trump's proposed restrictions on Muslim immigration. Web sites spreading the claim referenced a 7 April 1980 announcement by Carter titled "Sanctions Against Iran Remarks Announcing U.S. Actions" and highlighted a portion of those remarks:

Fourth, the Secretary of Treasury [State] and the Attorney General will invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. 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.

Stripped of context (and if readers squinted very hard), Carter's remarks bore a passing resemblance to Trump's proposal. However, the announcement's title ("Sanctions Against Iran Remarks Announcing U.S. Actions") suggested that the passage was part of a larger foreign policy strategy undertaken in response to a specific crisis, which was clear to those who read the speech in full:

Ever since Iranian terrorists imprisoned American Embassy personnel in Tehran early in November, these 50 men and women — their safety, their health, and their future — have been our central concern. We've made every effort to obtain their release on honorable, peaceful, and humanitarian terms, but the Iranians have refused to release them or even to improve the inhumane conditions under which these Americans are being held captive.

Carter addressed the then-ongoing Iranian hostage crisis (which lasted for 444 days between 1979 and 1981) in the opening portion of his remarks:

The events of the last few days have revealed a new and significant dimension in this matter. The militants controlling the Embassy have stated they are willing to turn the hostages over to the Government of Iran, but the Government has refused to take custody of the American hostages. This lays bare the full responsibility of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council for the continued illegal and outrageous holding of the innocent hostages. The Iranian Government can no longer escape full responsibility by hiding behind the militants at the Embassy.

In a broader context of an ongoing, direct conflict between Iran and the United States, Carter announced immediate sanctions on Iran, which included a cessation of diplomatic relations, a prohibition on trade, and assessment of previously-frozen Iranian Government assets. Along with several other sanctions, Carter ordered the cancellation of Iranian-U.S. visas and a moratorium on new visas, with exceptions for humanitarian and otherwise compelling situations. After listing the intended sanctions, Carter explained the United States' impetus for them:

In order to minimize injury to the hostages, the United States has acted at all times with exceptional patience and restraint in this crisis. We have supported Secretary-General Waldheim's activities under the U.N. Security Council mandate to work for a peaceful solution. We will continue to consult with our allies and other friendly governments on the steps we are now taking and on additional measures which may be required.

I am committed to resolving this crisis. I am committed to the safe return of the American hostages and to the preservation of our national honor. The hostages and their families, indeed all of us in America, have lived with the reality and the anguish of their captivity for five months. 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.

Clearly, Carter's fourth sanction pertaining to visas for Iranian nationals was in no way a security measure. Sanctions by definition are a tactic short of direct military conflict to elicit cooperation by other nations, issued to achieve compliance through discomfort or inconvenience. Throughout his remarks, Carter emphasized that the sanctions were a result of "patience" on the part of the United States government in securing the hostages' release, sanctions that were imposed only when the U.S. felt certain that the Iranian government was complicit in the detention of several American citizens in "inhumane conditions." The situation was critical, and the sanctions were a last-resort measure.

Carter explicitly outlined the reasons behind the issuance of sanctions (including visa cancellation for Iranian nationals) and underscored his intent to pressure Iran's regime. By contrast, Trump's proposal was markedly different: not a sanction, but a security measure framed as a counterterrorism strategy, and one directed at all adherents of a particular religion (regardless of their nationalities) rather than citizens of a particular country. Moreover, Carter's sanctions occurred during a lengthy period of escalating conflict between Iran and the United States (while U.S. hostages remained in foreign captivity), but Trump's proposal came in response to a mass shooting perpetrated by an American citizen and his immigrant wife.

Finally, Carter's sanctions were applied to Iranian nationals as part of a clear objective to secure the release of the U.S. hostages without military intervention, whereas Trump's suggestion applied to a far broader cross-section of visa applicants, which he described as a measure to prevent terrorist attacks. Historically, Carter's sanctions bore closer resemblance to Kennedy administration-era sanctions on Cuba [PDF, PDF] than Trump's anti-immigration plan.

Last updated: 09 December 2015

Originally published: 09 December 2015

Kim LaCapria is a New York-based content manager and longtime snopes.com message board participant. Although she was investigated and found to be "probably false" by snopes.com in early 2002, Kim later began writing for the site due to an executive order unilaterally passed by President Obama during a secret, late-night session (without the approval of Congress). Click like and share if you think this is an egregious example of legislative overreach.