A four-month review of the U.S. refugee program authorized under President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel ended Tuesday, re-opening the door to refugees from all countries, but with new vetting measures on the horizon.
The State Department and Department of Homeland Security, have yet to announce the details of the new screening measures.
Citing administration officials, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday the government will require additional biographical data and a more extensive review of refugees’ social media accounts prior to their acceptance.
Executive orders don’t stop refugees
Thousands of refugees have entered the United States, despite Trump’s two executive orders attempting to halt the program. Lawsuits stymied the initial roll-out of the temporary ban. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court determined arrivals could continue as long as the refugees could demonstrate “bona fide” close family ties to the country.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear from the top officials in charge of the refugee programs within the State Department, DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement on Capitol Hill this Thursday.
In addition to the forthcoming vetting changes, the Trump administration last month announced it would drop the ceiling on refugee arrivals for the 2018 Fiscal Year to 45,000, the lowest limit ever set for the program.
During the last months of then-President Barack Obama’s tenure in late 2016 and 2017, the U.S. refugee program — the most robust resettlement program in the world — was on track to receive 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, amid increasing demand for safe third-country relocation stemming from the Syrian civil war and Islamic State violence.
Trump insisted, first as a candidate then as president, the refugee vetting system was inadequate, despite academic studies showing few links to refugees and fatal attacks in the United States. The country’s refugee program has overseen the arrivals of more than three million displaced people since 1975.
Under the new administration, the refugee program has changed in other ways — including a shift back to accepting more Christians than Muslims, the two leading religions for arrivals since the early 2000s, according to a review of State Department data by VOA.
In 2016, a push to welcome more Syrian refugees bolstered the number of Muslims arrivals to the top spot for only the second time since that demographic data was made publicly available in 2002. Of the nearly 85,000 refugees who arrived between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016, 46 percent were Muslims, and 44 percent were Christian.
For the fiscal year that ended last month, however, Christians accounted for 47 percent of the approximately 54,000 refugees who entered the United States; whereas Muslim refugee arrivals dropped slightly to 43 percent during the same period, which included the transition of power from Obama to Trump in January.
Trump has prioritized changes to U.S. immigration and deportation systems since taking office. In addition to limiting refugees, his administration has issued three variations of the travel ban affecting specific countries, ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and ordered the hiring of 15,000 more immigration and border protection agents.