- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

President Trump imposed new restrictions on refugees from 11 “high risk” target countries Tuesday, reportedly all but one being mostly Muslim, saying they pose too much of a danger to be admitted without a compelling national interest.

In his executive order, Mr. Trump announced he was restarting general refugee processing after ordering a 120-day pause early in his tenure as part of his “extreme vetting” policy.

Officials said they used the 120-day pause to stiffen vetting, demand more personal information from would-be refugees, push fraud investigators into the field to try to spot troublesome applications and boost information-sharing to try to weed out bad candidates.

Refugees’ social media will also be scrutinized, officials said.

But 11 countries remain too high-risk to have its citizens be treated as normal refugees, and will be admitted on a limited case-by-case basis while the administration conducts another 90-day review, officials said.

The officials declined to name the countries, but Reuters reported they are Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all nations identified by the Security Advisory Opinion process, started in 2011 and last updated in 2015 under the Obama administration.

“The security of the American people is this administration’s highest priority, and these improved vetting measures are essential for American security,” said acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

Mr. Trump made the move a month after announcing a major cut to the number of refugees the U.S. would accept in fiscal year 2018, reducing the cap from 110,000 to just 45,000.

Immigrant and refugee advocates, already angry at the lower number, said the restrictions were disappointing and would hurt needy people.

“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,” said Jennifer Sime, senior vice president at the International Rescue Committee.

Advocates said refugees already undergo the stiffest screening of anyone admitted to the U.S. and that the additional steps the Trump administration has implemented are overkill.

“Today’s announcement makes the pattern undeniable. The Trump administration is seeking to dismantle the refugee resettlement program brick by brick, through any means necessary,” said the Rev. John McCullough, president of Church World Service.

The U.S. will still accept more refugees than any other country, the administration says, but Mr. Trump’s effects on the refugee program have been clear.

Through the first 24 days of fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1, just 930 refugees had been admitted. That was down from nearly 8,500 during the same time period last year under President Obama.

More striking is the change in demographics. Muslims, who accounted for nearly half of all refugees last October, represent just 20 percent so far this fiscal year under Mr. Trump.

Where Mr. Obama’s administration admitted more than 1,100 Syrians through this point in fiscal year 2017, Mr. Trump’s team has resettled just 15 so far this fiscal year. The number of Iraqis has dropped from more than 1,100 to 42, and the number of refugees from Somalia dipped from more than 1,100 to 95.

During the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Trump vowed to crack down on a refugee program that he said had become a major security vulnerability for the U.S.

He was particularly critical of Mr. Obama’s goal of admitting more than 10,000 Syrian refugees, despite concerns voiced by top Obama administration security officials that the U.S. couldn’t properly vet them amid the civil war in their home country.

Upon taking office, Mr. Trump issued his first extreme vetting executive order in late January, combining a 120-day pause in the refugee program with his 90-day halt to all admissions from seven majority-Muslim countries — the so-called travel policy that critics called a “Muslim ban.”

Judges blocked much of that original order, so Mr. Trump responded with revisions in an executive order in March that reimposed the 120-day refugee halt and 90-day travel pause, though with some exceptions.

After another legal battle, the Supreme Court allowed both to go into effect with some exemptions when it came to foreigners with connections to U.S. people or institutions.

The 120-day refugee pause expired Tuesday, and the new executive order replaces it.

The update was issued the same day that the Supreme Court tossed out a legal challenge filed against the March extreme vetting policy.

“Because those provisions of the order have ‘expired by [their] own terms,’ the appeal no longer presents a ‘live case or controversy,’” the justices said.

At the same time, Mr. Trump is facing a legal battle over his updated travel ban, which he announced last month after a 90-day study expired.

The updated policy restricts admission of visitors and would-be immigrants from eight countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii have allowed the North Korea and Venezuela restrictions to go into effect, but have once again blocked the president from imposing restrictions on the majority-Muslim countries.

One of the judges said Mr. Trump is still tainted by what the court called anti-Muslim “animus” he showed during the campaign and has continued while in office.

The Trump administration has already filed for a quick appeal of the Maryland ruling, and on Tuesday said it would also appeal the Hawaii injunction.

Andrea Noble contributed to this report.

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