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Trump administration reopens door to some refugees, but says vetting will be tough

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The Trump administration says it will lift a partial ban on refugees from 11 countries, but subject them to tough new security measures before allowing them to enter the U.S.

In October, Trump ordered an effective freeze for 90 days on new refugees coming from what the administration termed “high-risk” countries until new screening procedures were in place. The department wouldn’t name the countries, but refugee groups and court papers have identified them as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The administration slashed the cap on the total number of refugees admitted to the U.S., from 110,000 to 45,000 this year, but the new rules could mean that actual numbers of people who make it into the U.S. could be far lower than that.

The new rules will involve more intensive investigations and interviews of family members for people who want to be admitted to the U.S., though the Homeland Security and State departments declined to provide many details.

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Ten of the 11 nations have predominantly Muslim populations (North Korea is the exception). Some are also included in the latest version of Trump’s travel ban – which affects any foreigner from certain countries who want to visit the U.S., not just people seeking refugee status.

Trump put severe restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries soon after taking office, sparking demonstrations at airports and battles in federal courts across the country. Though judges initially blocked the ban, the Supreme Court in December threw out injunctions and allowed the policy to be enforced while it considers arguments.

Also in December, a judge partially lifted the refugee ban, but only for people with a family relationship to someone already living in the U.S.

In a speech on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the new measures will prevent the refugee program “from being exploited by terrorists, criminals and fraudsters.”

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“I want to be clear; these restrictions have nothing to do with race or religion,” she said. “This is about information sharing and knowing who, as an individual, is coming into our country.”

Homeland Security officials also signaled that U.S. refugee policy is likely to get even tougher: From now on, they say, the administration generally will give security risks greater weight when deciding who can be admitted on humanitarian grounds.

With the details of the new screening rules left vague, one refugee advocate said it’s difficult to tell how many people will be able to pass muster and enter the U.S.

“The devil is going to be in the details… whether this is a ban by another name,” said Jennifer Quigley, a refugee advocate for Human Rights First. She said it’s likely that “you’re going to continue to see very low admissions of Muslim refugees.”

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The new policy has placed many refugees in danger, she said, including Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military, contractors or other organizations during the war.

joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

Twitter: @jtanfani


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