The Trump administration said it would resume admitting refugees to the U.S. after the expiration Tuesday of a four-month ban on all resettlement but increase vetting, and announced a new partial ban on refugees from 11 countries.
The new vetting rules, which would apply to all new refugees admitted under a 45,000 per year cap that became effective Oct. 1, could slow the refugee approval process and halt admission for certain groups, according to resettlement groups and government officials.
Department of Homeland Security and State Department officials would not give details about exact changes in vetting — which currently takes years for many refugees — or name the 11 “higher-risk nationalities” whose refugees would be subject to “case-by-case” approval.
But refugee groups that were briefed by government officials called the rules unnecessary and said they would probably affect some of the largest refugee populations in the world.
“There isn’t anything in what we have heard or seen that will make us safer,” said Melanie Nezer, a spokeswoman for the refugee resettlement group HIAS, one of nine government-approved agencies.
Nezer said new procedures would include requests for applicants to provide all phone numbers and home and email addresses for places they have lived for more than 30 days in the last 10 years. Currently, refugees must give that information for the last five years.
She said the government would require refugees to share contact information for all family members. Previously, that request was made only for family members who live in the U.S. or have U.S. connections.
“Refugees are fleeing war, they may not remember all information, or they may give accidentally incorrect information and be delayed,” Nezer said.
Refugee resettlement groups said government officials told them that nationals of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be approved only on a case-by-case basis for 90 days while the government further considered vetting for those countries. The countries accounted for more than 40% of refugee admissions to the U.S. over the last year. In addition, some Palestinians would face similar hurdles.
Resettlement organizations said they feared that refugees who had already passed vetting but had not yet entered the U.S. would be blocked.
“Hundreds, possibly thousands of families that have gone through the exhaustive vetting process in good faith and were promised refuge in the United States will see their eligibility revoked and be exposed to even further danger,” said a statement from the agency Church World Service.
Government officials said the changes would protect the United States.
“The U.S. refugee admissions program takes seriously its commitment to ensure the security and integrity of the program,” said Jennifer Higgins, associate director of Refugee, Asylum and International Operations for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The refugee ban that expired Tuesday applied to refugees without close relatives in the United States. Trump signed it as part of his travel ban, which federal judges struck down before the Supreme Court allowed parts of it to proceed over the summer. The travel ban slashed by more than half the refugee cap President Obama put into place before he left office.
Trump further cut the cap last month for the new fiscal year that began in October. The 45,000 limit is the lowest since the government began setting refugee admission ceilings in 1980.
The president also signed a new travel ban that federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland struck down last week. That ban does not mention refugees. The Department of Justice is appealing the judges’ rulings.