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  • Progressive Lawmaker Ilhan Omar speaks during a campaign event ahead of her election to the U.S. Congress.

    Progressive Lawmaker Ilhan Omar speaks during a campaign event ahead of her election to the U.S. Congress. | Photo: 'Ilhan Omar for State Representative'

Published 9 March 2019

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is under scrutiny for a recent comment comparing former President Obama's policies with the Trump administration.

Once again Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) is under the political spotlight after Politico Magazine published Friday an interview in which she criticized President Obama’s policies on immigration and drone strikes, comparing them to those of the current Trump administration.

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Immediately, both liberal, conservative media outlets and social media took it as a direct attack on Obama. However, the congresswoman tweeted late Friday that she felt her words were “distorted” posting the actual recording of the interview.

In a tweet late Friday, which has been deleted by Saturday morning, Omar said she is not against the former president but against certain policies implemented during his two terms, especially regarding migration and drone deployment and bombings. 

“I can talk about the family separation, caging of kids, or the bombing of countries and people will point out it was Obama and that is all very true. But what is happening now is very different from the feel-good polished way those policies were presented before,” said Omar in the interview, adding that Trump “is not a politician who sells us his policies in the most perfect, polished way. His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.” 

As a Somali migrant, Omar is directly involved with policies that Obama implemented and now Trump has kept on. Thus, as the progressive lawmaker states “we can’t be only upset with Trump.”

It was under the Obama administration that the family separation and “caging of children” began. In 2014, as the violence in Central America rose, thousands of migrants reached the U.S.- Mexico Border. More than 60,000 family units - as the U.S. government defines a parent and child - were stopped only in the 2014 fiscal year, a fourfold increase from 2013.

Under the Obama administration mothers with children were held in family detention facilities in Pennsylvania and two larger facilities that opened in Texas in 2014. Those spaces provided a few thousand beds. A federal judge in Los Angeles agreed and ruled that the children could not be kept in detention, as it violated a 1997 settlement agreement governing the treatment of migrant children.
 
The issue resurfaced as the controversial images of “caged” children hit social media in 2018. A number of prominent liberals and even a former Obama administration official shared photos of children in cages, mistakenly believed to belong to Trump’s era, little did they know they were from 2014. Even though most tweets were deleted, social media made viral the content. 

Jon Favreau, who worked as a speechwriter for Obama, was one of the people that tweeted  2014 of caged children Photo: Social Media 
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Regarding the bombing of countries, Obama embraced the U.S. drone program like no other president. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), there were 10 times more airstrikes in “war on terror” under Obama’s administration than with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In a report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), between Jan. 20, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2015, there were 473 strikes that killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants and between 64 and 116 noncombatants.

However, based on the averages provided by the New America Foundation, Long War Journal, and the BIJ, Obama is responsible for 528 strikes that killed 4,189 people, 474 of whom were civilians. On the most affected countries was Somalia, Omar’s place of birth. 

Under Trump, the drone program has escalated. In his first year in office there was a 287 percent increase in strikes, as compared to 2016. Just in Somalia, in 2017, there were 33 drone strikes, which is more than all the strikes by the U.S. in Somalia over the previous 15  years.

And the responsibility for military drone strikes also has diminished under the current U.S. administration. On March 6 , President Trump, through an executive order, revoked a policy set by Obama requiring officials to publish the number of civilians killed in drone strikes outside of war zones.

“We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because their policies are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies to understand the negative and positive impact they cause”, Omar emphatically said during her interview as she stands as one of the few progressive lawmakers in the U.S. that publicly are criticizing not only the current administration but the Democratic Party establishment and its past and present leaders.

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