Trump qui­etly cuts Obama’s tar­get num­ber of refugees

Few let in from coun­tries con­nected to ter­ror­ism

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

De­spite a court or­der halt­ing most of his ex­treme vet­ting pol­icy, Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has qui­etly been work­ing to­ward his goal of a dras­tic cut in the num­ber of refugees the U.S. will ac­cept this fis­cal year.

Pres­i­dent Obama had set a tar­get of up to 110,000 on his way out the door, but Mr. Trump tried to re­set that num­ber to 50,000. If the pace con­tin­ues, the fi­nal tally is likely to be about 60,000 when the fis­cal year ends in Septem­ber — well be­low the level Mr. Obama wanted to lock in.

Most strik­ing is the drop in the num­ber of refugees from the seven ter­ror­ist-con­nected spe­cial in­ter­est coun­tries that Mr. Trump sin­gled out for ex­tra scru­tiny in his ex­ec­u­tive or­ders: Iran, Iraq, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men.

Those coun­tries ac­counted for about half of all refugees ad­mit­ted over the fi­nal months of Mr. Obama’s ten­ure. But dur­ing the past six weeks, they have rep­re­sented only about a quar­ter of the refugees — de­spite a judge’s or­der in­struct­ing Mr. Trump to keep Mr. Obama’s poli­cies in place.

Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts cheered the move, say­ing the new pres­i­dent has al­ready changed the cul­ture from the previous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Even if ‘ex­treme vet­ting’ is on hold, good vet­ting

takes time, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to fol­low the law are elim­i­nat­ing the ir­re­spon­si­ble rush to judg­ment that took place un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Matthew J. O’Brien, re­search di­rec­tor at the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form and a for­mer se­nior anti-fraud ex­ec­u­tive at U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, one of the agen­cies that han­dles refugees.

Across two ex­ec­u­tive or­ders — one in Jan­uary and, af­ter courts blocked it, a re­vised one in March — Mr. Trump has tried to im­pose a 90-day halt on all ad­mis­sions from a half-dozen sus­pect coun­tries. He has also at­tempted to en­force a 120-day pause in refugee ad­mis­sions and a broader halt to any Syr­ian refugees. He also cut Mr. Obama’s refugee ceil­ing by more than half, to just 50,000.

The goal, Mr. Trump said, was to give his ad­min­is­tra­tion a chance to im­prove screen­ing pro­ce­dures so no po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists could slip through.

How­ever a fed­eral judge in Hawaii said Mr. Trump’s en­tire ap­proach has been tainted by the “an­i­mus” he showed Mus­lims dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and has put all of the key parts on hold.

That means the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is still ad­mit­ting refugees from the seven tar­geted coun­tries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men — but at much lower lev­els than dur­ing Mr. Obama’s ten­ure.

Syr­i­ans made up about 15 per­cent of all refugees ad­mit­ted dur­ing Mr. Obama’s time this fis­cal year. Over the past six weeks, though, they to­tal about 4 per­cent. The num­ber of Iraqis has dropped from 15 per­cent un­der Mr. Obama to about 8 per­cent of the to­tal in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Over­all, the num­ber of refugees ac­cepted world­wide has dropped from more than 10,000 in Oc­to­ber to 2,070 in March, and only slightly more than 3,000 in each of the past two months.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment late last week asked the Supreme Court to in­ter­vene in the court bat­tle and al­low Mr. Trump’s full travel ban and refugee halt to be re­in­stated — in­clud­ing a full stop to Syr­ian refugees and reim­pos­ing the 50,000 cap for fis­cal year 2017.

If they suc­ceed, it would slow refugees even more. The gov­ern­ment has ad­mit­ted more than 46,000 in the first eight months of the fis­cal year, so that would leave an av­er­age of just 1,000 for each of the fi­nal four months — 10 per­cent the rate Mr. Obama had hoped.

Refugee ad­vo­cates say thou­sands of refugees could be stranded with­out op­tions.

“For peo­ple who may have fam­ily here who don’t know what the fu­ture means for them, that’s just a tragedy. For peo­ple who were in the process and now are won­der­ing what’s next for them, and peo­ple who are in pre­car­i­ous and ten­u­ous and vul­ner­a­ble con­di­tions, what does this mean for them? I don’t have an an­swer for ev­ery refugee, but in gen­eral it’s not a good sit­u­a­tion for refugees,” said Kay Bel­lor, vice pres­i­dent for pro­grams at the Lutheran Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Ser­vices.

She said Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties have shown “an amaz­ing out­pour­ing of sup­port” for the refugees and that the gov­ern­ment needs to match that com­mit­ment. Ms. Bel­lor said a 50,000 cap is well be­low what the U.S. can — and should — ac­cept.

“Dis­ap­point­ment is kind of not even a strong enough word,” she said. “The U.S. should do more. The prob­lem is great, our re­sources are great.”

The U.S. looks to the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees to con­duct ini­tial screen­ings to de­cide who would be good can­di­dates for re­set­tle­ment. Amer­i­can of­fi­cials at U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices then do their own screen­ing, which in­cludes an in­ter­view and the most ex­ten­sive back­ground check pos­si­ble, and the State Depart­ment makes fi­nal ap­provals.

Refugees are re­set­tled in the U.S. by non­profit groups such as the Lutheran Im­mi­gra­tion and Refugee Ser­vices.

Mr. Trump ar­gues that the U.S. needs bet­ter refugee screen­ing, and se­cu­rity an­a­lysts point to a num­ber of peo­ple ad­mit­ted as refugees who have been charged with ter­ror­ist-re­lated of­fenses over the past decade. Refugee ad­vo­cates counter that the rate of crime and other dan­gers from refugees is low.

For now, bat­tles in Congress over bud­gets and in the courts over the le­gal­ity of the pres­i­dent’s plans have left the agen­cies that ad­min­is­ter the refugee pro­gram strug­gling.

USCIS be­gan a slow­down in Jan­uary to con­form to Mr. Trump’s 50,000 ceil­ing. When a judge in Hawaii is­sued an in­junc­tion in March halt­ing the 50,000 num­ber, USCIS had to al­ter its plans but had al­ready can­celed in­ter­views with thou­sands of po­ten­tial refugees.

Now, the agency is scram­bling to ad­just the pace of in­ter­views.

The State Depart­ment blamed an un­cer­tain bud­get sit­u­a­tion for the over­all slow­down and sug­gested that ac­tiv­ity would pick up af­ter Congress ap­proved fund­ing for fis­cal year 2017 in early May.

The depart­ment said in a state­ment that it is act­ing un­der the 110,000 ceil­ing set by Mr. Obama but stressed that is an outer limit, not a tar­get.

“We are not in a po­si­tion to spec­u­late as to the fi­nal num­ber of refugees that will be ad­mit­ted by the end of this fis­cal year,” the depart­ment said.

The depart­ment de­clined to an­swer why the per­cent­age of refugees from spe­cial-in­ter­est coun­tries has dropped, say­ing only that “we con­tinue to in­ter­view and process refugees of all na­tion­al­i­ties.”

Mr. O’Brien said part of the slow­down from spe­cial-in­ter­est coun­tries could be a re­sult of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions in the Mid­dle East in re­cent months.

But over­all, he said, the num­bers are a sig­nal that Mr. Trump is in charge and em­ploy­ees are get­ting the mes­sage.

“Many of the peo­ple from the Iraq/ Syria re­gion un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should never have been ad­mit­ted to the United States. It ap­pears that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is mak­ing at­tempts to en­gage in se­ri­ous (as op­posed to su­per­fi­cial) vet­ting ef­forts and is ap­prov­ing refugee ap­pli­ca­tions only for in­di­vid­u­als who ap­pear to be gen­uine refugees,” Mr. O’Brien said in an email.

He also said he sus­pects that where the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion treated the refugee cap as a tar­get to be met, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sees it as an outer limit.

“Part of Obama’s im­mi­gra­tion agenda was to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the num­ber of both asylees and refugees ad­mit­ted to the U.S. — pre­sum­ably be­cause Pres­i­dent Obama saw the U.S. as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the degra­da­tion of the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East. By way of con­trast, Pres­i­dent Trump has clearly in­di­cated that he sees refugee ad­mis­sions as a pri­or­ity na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue and rad­i­cal Is­lam as the source of the prob­lem,” Mr. O’Brien said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­spite wide­spread protests from im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates, Pres­i­dent Trump ap­pears to be mov­ing to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the num­ber of refugees al­lowed to en­ter the U.S., even as his bid to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend ad­mis­sions is stalled in the courts.

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