New Travel Order Will Cut Refugee Admissions to Below 2,000 a Month, on Average

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By Patrick Goodenough
Mideast refugees, walking from Serbia, arrive at a ‘collection point’ in Hungary. (Photo: UNHCR/Mark Henley)
( – President Trump’s new travel executive order issued on Monday maintains the original’s ceiling of 50,000 refugees to be resettled in the United States this fiscal year, meaning that just 12,639 more refugees are set to be admitted over the next seven months.

“… I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any entries in excess of that number until such time as I determine that additional entries would be in the national interest,” the president’s order reads.

The 50,000 ceiling is below half of the one set by the Obama administration last fall for FY 2017, when it informed Congress that the U.S. would admit 110,000 refugees in FY 2017 – an increase of almost 30 percent from the FY 2016 target of 85,000.

As of Monday, 37,361 refugees had been admitted since the fiscal year began last October 1, about 53 percent of them from the mostly Muslim-majority countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The countries of origin accounting for the largest single groups of resettled refugees in FY 2017 are the Democratic Republic of Congo (6,574), Syria (5,557), Iraq (5,488), Somalia (4,659), Burma (3,089), Ukraine (2,454), Bhutan (2,074), Iran (1,875) and Afghanistan (999).

State Department Refugee Processing Center data show that the fiscal year has seen a steady monthly drop in admission numbers – from 9,945 in October, to 8,355 in November, to 7,371 in December, 6,777 in January and 4,579 last month.

With just under seven months of the fiscal year to run, the new order will reduce the number to an average of fewer than 2,000 a month.

Trump’s order – like the Jan. 27 one which was held up by federal judges – includes a 120-day suspension of travel to the U.S. of all refugees, apart from those already formally scheduled for travel. The new order also suspends for the same length of time all decisions on applications for refugee status.

During that 120-day period, the secretaries of state and homeland security, consulting with the director of national intelligence, are to review the refugee “application and adjudication processes to determine what additional procedures should be used to ensure that individuals seeking admission as refugees do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

Additional procedures identified as necessary will be implemented, and when refugee admissions resume after the 120 days are up, they will include only those from countries for which the two secretaries and DNI have determined the additional procedures being implemented are “adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.

The new order does not replicate the earlier order’s indefinite ban on the specific admission of Syrian refugees, although the wording about additional procedures deemed necessary could affect applicants from Syria, and a number of other countries as well.

So far this fiscal year, 5,557 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S., of whom 5,440 (97.9 percent) are Muslims (95.7 percent of the total are Sunnis), 92 are Christians, 22 are Yazidis and three are Druze.

Although Syrians of all faiths have been victimized by the various parties fighting in the civil war, the Sunni-Christian ratio among the refugees given refuge in the U.S. does not reflect the population makeup of the country when the conflict began – 74 percent Sunni; 10 percent Christian.

The lopsided proportion of Muslim to Christians among Syrian refugees admitted in recent years prompted some Republican lawmakers to call for non-Muslim minorities to be prioritized – particularly as the Obama administration had determined that atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) in areas under its control constitute genocide.

The Obama administration refused to consider what it described as a “religious test” in the refugee application process.

Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order included a section about prioritizing refugees from minority religions. The new one issued on Monday does not.