The statement Monday referred to Obama's
remarks in a news conference in November 2015,
when he said the "United States has to step up
and do its part" to protect and assist refugees.
Breaking his silence only 10 days after he left
office, former President Barack Obama backed
nationwide protests against President Donald
Trump's executive order on immigration
In a strongly worded statement issued through a
spokesman, Obama said he was "heartened by
the level of engagement taking place in
communities around the country."
"Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to
assemble, organize and have their voices heard
by their elected officials is exactly what we
expect to see when American values are at
stake," he said.
Shortly afterward, Acting Attorney General Sally
Yates — a holdover from the Obama
administration — sent a memo to Justice
Department lawyers ordering them not to defend
the executive order against several legal
challenges that were filed over the weekend.
The former president rejected Trump's
contention Sunday that his executive orders
restricting travel from seven predominantly
Muslim countries were "similar to what
President Obama did in 2011 when he banned
visas for refugees from Iraq for six months."
Obama's statement Monday said: "With regard
to comparisons to President Obama's foreign
policy decisions, as we've heard before, the
President fundamentally disagrees with the
notion of discriminating against individuals
because of their faith or religion."
The 2011 order did not ban visas for refugees,
who by definition don't travel on visas. It
tightened the review process for citizens of Iraq
and for refugees from the six other countries,
while Trump's is a near-blanket order applying
to nearly all residents and citizens of all seven
"That's not American. That's not who we are,"
he said then. "We don't have religious tests to
"When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we
should just admit the Christians but not the
Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting
that there would be a religious test for which a
person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is
admitted, when some of those folks themselves
come from families who benefited from
protection when they were fleeing political
persecution — that's shameful," Obama said at