President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to restart the refugee resettlement program, after it was suspended for 120 days as part of the president’s travel ban issued earlier this year. The order will resume refugee admissions but will initiate a new 90-day review period for officials to conduct an “in-depth threat assessment” of eleven countries. While neither the executive order nor the White House named these eleven countries, Politico says that based on statements from senior administration officials these countries appear to include: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—all majority-Muslim countries except for North Korea and South Sudan.
During the 90-day review period, refugee admissions for nationals from these eleven countries will only be allowed in the US if the individual’s entry is in the national interest. A government memo obtained by Reuters says the review would seek “to determine what additional safeguards, if any, were necessary to ensure that the admission of refugees from these countries of concern does not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”
Claiming in the executive order that the attorney general had “reported that more than 300 persons who had entered the United States as refugees were then the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the order outlines more “extreme vetting” for refugee admissions across the board. Refugees not from the targeted eleven countries will be subjected to new vetting procedures regarding applications, interviews, and background checks, according to Jennifer Higgins, associate director for the refugee, asylum and international operations directorate at US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Higgins says that the agency will collect more biographical data and contacts for all family members as well as a detailed “family tree” in the screening process. “This can help us better determine the truthfulness of an individual’s claim, including any criminal history or ties to bad actors,” she says.
Additionally, USCIS refugee officers will collect phone, email, and address information going back over a ten-year period instead of the current five-year-period, according to a State Department memo sent to refugee support centers. The new order also temporarily suspends the "following-to-join" program, which allows refugees to bring their spouses and children to the US. Despite all this, one official tells CNN that they "are a welcoming administration” and these refugee policies show that President Trump is committed to protecting Americans and he’s not just "anti-immigration (or) anti-refugee."
Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a resettlement organization formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, says in a written statement that the new requirements "create additional, unnecessary burdens” for those fleeing their home countries. “The US is decimating the refugee resettlement program at a time of unprecedented global need,” he says. Jennifer Sime, senior vice-president of US programs at the International Rescue Committee, also objects to the new screening guidelines. “This will add months, or potentially years, to the most urgent cases—the majority of which are women and children in heinous circumstances who need the permanent and proven solution of resettlement. With a world facing brutal and protracted conflicts like in Syria, or new levels of displacement and unimaginable violence against the Rohingya—this moment is a test of the world’s humanity, moral leadership, and ability to learn from the horrors of the past.”
The new refugee executive order will likely face legal challenges. We will provide updates as we receive them.