President Donald Trump has radically changed the U.S. refugee program, as a lower admissions cap and tighter vetting procedures have led to a sharp decline in both the number of people admitted and the share of Muslims in the refugee population.
The Trump administration restarted refugee admissions in late October after the end of a 120-day suspension that was part of the revised travel ban. In the five weeks since the suspension was lifted, the U.S. admitted 40 percent fewer people than it did in the final five weeks the ban was in effect, reports Reuters, citing State Department data.
The figures show how the administration’s new vetting procedures have slowed refugee admissions to a relative trickle compared to the situation under former President Barack Obama’s administration.
U.S. immigration officials are collecting more biographical data, in addition to running applicants through law enforcement and intelligence databases, according to new guidelines laid out in October. Officials also comb through applicants’ social media posts to look for discrepancies between what they have said publicly and what they reveal during their personal interviews.
The new process includes a 90-day review period for 11 countries — Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. During that period, which began Oct. 25, refugee admissions from those countries are allowed on a case-by-case basis only, a slowdown that has contributed to the decline in overall admissions.
The U.S. admitted 1,469 refugees from all countries in the five weeks between Oct. 25 and Nov. 28 — 41 percent fewer than the 2,500 that were admitted during the final five weeks of the ban. Refugees were still admitted during the suspension because of a Supreme Court ruling that required an exemption for refugees with “bona fide” ties to the U.S.
Admissions from the 11 countries under security review fell off even more precipitously. Fifteen refugees from those countries were allowed between Oct. 25 and Nov. 28, compared to 587 refugees admitted in the five weeks before the suspension was lifted.
The religious profile of refugees has also changed along with the declining number of admissions. In the last five weeks of the ban, 26 percent of admitted refugees were Muslim and 55 percent were Christian. Since the new admissions policies went into effect, only 9 percent of refugees were Muslim and 63 percent were Christian.
State Department officials have attributed the reduction in refugee admissions to tougher vetting and a lower refugee cap, that the Trump administration set at 45,000 for fiscal year 2018.
Refugee assistance groups have railed against the cap, which is less than half the number set during the last year of the Obama administration, saying it harms U.S. standing during a time of worldwide refugee crises.
The lower number reflects the State Department’s new focus on resettling refugees in countries close to their nations of origin while offering a “robust program for the small percentage of people that need to be moved” to the U.S., an administration official said in October.
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