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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More “Birther” Nonsense: Obama’s 1981 Pakistan Trip

We continue to receive queries about claims and theories advanced by "birthers," who wish to believe that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the USA or that he somehow gave up his citizenship and thus is not qualified to hold the office he occupies. One is a claim, first advanced last year, that his trip to Pakistan in 1981 proves he must not have been a U.S. citizen because Americans were not permitted to travel there at the time.

This one is not quite as transparent as the April Fools’ Day hoax that took in many of these deniers of Obama’s birthplace bona fides. That one was a fabricated Associated Press story about Obama’s student records from Occidental College. But the Pakistan theory is just as false. The truth, easily proven, is that American citizens traveled freely to Pakistan in 1981.

Obama did go to Pakistan that year when he was 20 years old with a college friend, after first seeing his mother and half-sister in Indonesia. That much is true. When he mentioned the 1981 trip during a campaign appearance last year, it came as news, because he had not previously written of it in his books.

Some then speculated, or claimed outright, that Obama must have gotten into Pakistan using an Indonesian passport obtained while his mother was married to Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian man whom she had divorced the previous year. Under this theory, the young Obama had somehow become an Indonesian citizen. "Birthers" claimed that the Pakistan trip constituted indirect proof of Obama’s supposed Indonesian citizenship. Philadelphia lawyer Phil Berg even told the U.S. Supreme Court last year, before it refused to hear his case challenging Obama’s qualification to be president, that Pakistan "was on the State Department’s travel ban list for U.S. Citizens."

But that claim is quite false. There was no such ban. Americans traveled there without incident, as shown by a travel piece that appeared in the New York Times in 1981, dated June 14. Barbara Crossette, an assistant news editor of the Times, told her mostly American readers they could travel to Lahore, Pakistan, by air, rail or road, adding: "Tourists can obtain a free, 30-day visa (necessary for Americans) at border crossings and airports."

Her article prompted a letter to the Times from the U.S. consul general in Lahore saying he would "welcome an influx of Americans" to Lahore. He cautioned only that in addition to getting a visa for Pakistan, American visitors also should be careful to line up an Indian visa for the return trip if they planned to travel overland. The letter is dated Aug. 23, 1981.

Also, a travel advisory from the State Department dated Aug. 17, 1981 notes that Americans traveling to Pakistan require a 30-day visa, and that any staying longer must check in with Pakistan’s Foreigner Registration Office. A digital copy of the advisory is archived at the Electronic Research Collection, a partnership between the State Department and the Federal Depository Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For those who missed it earlier, high-resolution images of Obama’s birth certificate are displayed as supporting documents to our article "Born in the U.S.A." The document meets the U.S. State Department’s requirements for proving U.S. citizenship. That, along with a 1961 newspaper announcement of his birth and statements last year by state officials in Hawaii, remove for us any doubt that Obama is indeed a natural-born citizen.

The "birthers" aren’t buying it. They, however, so far have produced what we judge to be zero credible evidence that Obama was born elsewhere, or that he later gave up U.S. citizenship. The false claim about a 1981 travel ban is typical of what’s been offered along those lines.