Trump issues revised travel ban, maintaining sharp limits on refugee resettlement

By Amy Lieberman 06 March 2017
A poster at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on immigration and travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. Photo by: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND

President Donald Trump issued a revised executive order Monday restricting refugee resettlement travel to the United States from six Muslim-majority countries — a move that will likely significantly redefine its role as a leader in resettling some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The document has much of the same substance as the original executive order restricting immigration and refugee admissions that Trump signed at the beginning of February. But it also has some different elements and has backed away from some especially contentious areas.

Like the original, this order places a 120-day suspension on all refugee arrivals to the U.S. But it does not stipulate an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, who make up 35 percent of the world’s more than 21 million refugees.

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People from six Muslim-majority countries — Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — are also not eligible to travel to the U.S. for 90 days, the text of the ban states. Iraq, included as part of the original list, is not part of the revised order. Legal permanent residents and visa holders are also not part of this order.

The order maintains a cap on the total number of people who can be admitted to the U.S. each year through its refugee resettlement program — limiting these numbers to 50,000, a drastic cut from the previous 110,000. In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. admitted 86,000 refugees, taking in the largest number of people out of any country through a formal resettlement program, which involves intensive vetting that can take years to complete.

On Monday, shortly after the signing of the new order, humanitarian and development organizations began reacting with disappointment to the announcement, which they had been expecting for weeks.

“We had heard what was going to come out and it is pretty much what we expected, but we are very disappointed because with the unbelievable humanitarian needs, from the conflict in Syria to the four famines in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan, these are some of the most vulnerable countries,” said Bill O’Keefe, the vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services.

”It just does not help our national security and will have huge humanitarian consequences…. There is no reason to stop all refugee admission for 120 days. They should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The refugees are the most vetted population coming into the country.”
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The new “travel ban” will take effect March 16. Shortly after the announcement of the first ban, a U.S. appeals court placed a stay on that order, which was challenged on its constitutionality for targeting refugees and visa holders from the seven Muslim-majority countries. There was also not clear evidence that people from these countries presented a risk to the U.S., the court found.

Already, in the lead up to the announcement of the revised order, organizations such as the International Refugee Assistance Project — which is part of the Urban Justice Center and provides free legal aid to refugees — have observed visible impacts of the new cap on resettlement. This element remained intact following the appeals court stay on the first executive order.

“The cap is quite severe and that means interviews are stopping and all the various stages of process are going to be significantly delayed for people who are in pipeline,” said Betsy Fisher, policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “Certainly the number of arrivals are a fraction of what we would expect them to be.”

Her colleagues have had a lot of “difficult conversations” with people who have been waiting for a long period of time, expecting they might be able to reunite with a family member in the U.S., for example, says Fisher, but will now possibly not even be interviewed.

Already, this fiscal year, the U.S. has admitted approximately 35,000 refugees, leaving availability for just 15,000 more people.

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