This appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post.
President Donald Trump has already slashed refugee admissions for the next year to a decades-long low. Now, in yet another blow to America’s legacy as a beacon of hope to beleaguered people around the world, his administration plans to make entry into the United States even more difficult for those refugees who are lucky enough not to be banned from the country entirely.
Trump’s first two travel bans suspended all refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days. On Tuesday, that aspect of the ban expired — and the administration has replaced it with a mean-spirited policy not defensible on any conceivable grounds of national security.
Notwithstanding the president’s promises to implement “extreme vetting,” refugees seeking entry into the United States already are subject to a gantlet of security checks and interviews. Under this new policy, the process will become even more arduous. Refugees will need to hand over more detailed biographical data and contact information for family members. The government will scale up efforts to spot possible fraud. Meanwhile, a program allowing swifter entry for refugees seeking to join family members who have already reached the United States has been put on hold.
The policy is harshest toward refugees from 11 countries, which Reuters reports as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. For 90 days, citizens and stateless residents of these countries will be blocked from the United States unless their admission is determined not to pose a security threat and to be in the national interest of the United States. That loophole is particularly small because the State Department plans to prioritize refugees from other countries. Essentially, the administration has extended the refugee ban another month and a half for these 11 nations. (They produced more than 40 percent of refugees admitted to the United States in fiscal 2017.) That makes for a drastic cut in refugee admissions.
Of those 11 countries, only three — Egypt, Mali and South Sudan — have not been included in some iteration of Trump’s travel ban. All but North Korea and South Sudan are majority-Muslim. It’s true that male refugees from these countries were already subject to a greater degree of scrutiny under a list established by the Obama administration. But an outright ban on all refugees is a different matter from increased screening for some.
The administration argues that these policies are necessary to protect Americans’ security. Yet it has failed to provide any evidence that refugees pose a security threat — or to dispel the suspicion that settled over Trump’s immigration policies following the religious demagoguery of his first travel ban. We will see whether this latest policy faces a renewed challenge in court, as the travel ban has. In the meantime, we hope that the 90-day review of vetting procedures for the affected 11 countries concludes with a decision to reopen the United States’ doors.