The Trump administration has lifted its effective pause on refugees from 11 “high-risk” countries but is imposing stricter vetting, including in-depth interviews, for applicants from those nations, Homeland Security announced Monday.
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also said it’s time to update the list of high-risk countries, which hasn’t been revised since 2015, in order to keep track of the expanding threats. That review will happen over the next six months, and will be updated every six months following.
And Ms. Nielsen said the overall refugee program doesn’t do enough to focus on risks in the refugee program, and she’s proposing an update, working with the State Department and Congress, to try to focus on qualified refugees.
“These changes will not only improve security but importantly they will help us better assist refugees fleeing persecution,” the secretary said.
Admissions from the 11 countries have been essentially on pause since Mr. Trump’s October updates to his refugee policy.
That’s changing now.
“We’ll be resuming admissions with the new security measures in place,” a senior official said.
The government has declined to publicly identify the 11 countries currently targeted, but they are reportedly Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
President Trump had called for stiffer refugee screening as part of his January 2017 travel ban executive order, and has updated that policy in the ensuing year in response both to court orders and to reviews of U.S. policy that he directed.
A federal court in Washington has stepped in to rule some of the old policy likely illegal and issue an injunction. Homeland Security said the new changes will be carried out in compliance with that injunction.
Refugee admissions have been down dramatically under Mr. Trump as his “extreme vetting” policies have taken hold.
From Oct. 1, 2017, through this past weekend, just 6,487 refugees were admitted — only about 25 percent of the 32,125 that came in during the same period under President Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama admitted 4,884 Syrians during that period, while the new administration has resettled just 35 over the equivalent time frame.
It’s not clear what the new announcements will mean for those numbers, though they would seem likely to increase.
There’s plenty of room to make up if the administration is to come close to the cap Mr. Trump set of 45,000 refugees to be admitted this year. Mr. Obama set a cap of 110,000 refugees in his last year in office.
The religious makeup of refugees has also changed dramatically. Over the last months of the Obama regime nearly 49 percent of refugees were a Muslim faith. The number is less than 14 percent over the last few months under Mr. Trump.
Homeland Security officials waved aside accusations that their decisions about refugee policy and selection were rooted in religion.
“Our admissions have absolutely nothing to do with religion in any way, shape or form,” one official said.
Department officials said they’ll be training adjudicators on the new vetting procedures as they prepare to make circuit rides to interview refugees.
The department declined to provide more details about the enhanced checks, saying it didn’t want to give the “playbook” to enemies.