Trump Administration to Resume Refugee Admissions With Enhanced Vetting

U.S. President Donald Trump attends the announcement of the introduction of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The act aims to overhaul U.S. immigration by moving towards a "merit-based" system. (Photo by Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES  —  As President Donald Trump’s travel ban restrictions expire, the administration will allow in refugees from all countries — but with new, enhanced vetting rules, the administration announced Tuesday.

Trump signed the new executive order on Tuesday. Under the new rules, the administration will collect more biographical data on refugees and scrutinize their social media in addition to taking other measures to look for fraud, officials said on a call to brief reporters.

The move comes as the 120-day pause on refugee admissions under Trump’s earlier travel ban expires. But there will be a second 90-day review of 11 unnamed countries determined to be of higher risk, officials said.

Those 11 countries remain secret because of “law enforcement sensitivities,” but were chosen as being of “higher risk” based on the visa clearance process established in 2001 and last revised in 2015, a senior administration official said on the call.

People from those countries will not be barred from entering the United States during the 90-day review, but will be admitted on a case-by-case basis only “if their admission is deemed to be in the national interest and poses no threat to the security or welfare of the United States,” a senior administration official said.

In his order, Trump said the 120-day review concluded that with the new measures, the refugee admissions program in general is not a threat to the United States.

The secretaries of state and homeland security and director of national intelligence have advised that the improvements to the refugee vetting process “are generally adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States” and can be resumed, with “special measures” for certain categories of refugees “whose entry continues to pose potential threats to the security and welfare of the United States,” the order said.

The 120-day stop to refugee admissions that was put in place by Trump’s controversial executive order expires on Tuesday. The order, first issued in January and then re-issued in March with revisions, was held up by the courts for months before being allowed to go into effect. Refugees with a “bona fide” relationship to the United States were exempted from the ban, the Supreme Court held.

In place of the total ban, higher scrutiny and collection of information about such things as family members and places of employment will be used, a senior administration official told CNN. The new provisions were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Other enhanced vetting measures being implemented include increased screening of biographical data, social media and information sharing between agencies, said Jennifer Higgins, associate director of the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate at US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“This can help us better determine the truthfulness of an applicant’s claims,” Higgins said.

Further efforts will include moves to “forward deploy” fraud detection officers into the field for the interview phase and to strengthen guidance and training on admissibility and the evaluation of the credibility of applicants, Higgins said. There will also be further guidance on the inadmissibility of applicants regarding crimes, including drug offenses, prostitution and fraud.

The officials repeatedly declined to get into specifics about the differences between the new policies and the old vetting process, which could take as long as two years, citing law enforcement sensitive information.

“These enhancements will continually be enhanced, reassessed and improved upon,” Higgins said.

As for the time of processing, the administration had no estimate on the impact of the new measures or what would come of the 90-day review.

“We expect that the processing time may be slower as we implement the (measures),” another senior administration official acknowledged.

An official did say that admissions would continue to be evaluated based on need and security, and while the United States would make efforts to help refugees assimilate to their new surroundings — including with English lessons, for example — the core of the program hasn’t changed.

“This is not an additional requirement for refugees, and vulnerability will remain the bedrock of the US refugee program,” the official said.

The new rules were developed in an interagency effort between the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence as well as top homeland security adviser Tom Bossert in the White House.

“We are a welcoming administration,” the official insisted separately to CNN, saying that these policies should show the American people that the President is committed to protecting Americans and he’s not just “anti-immigration (or) anti-refugee.”

In litigation, groups challenging the travel ban alleged it was driven by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim animus, pointing to Trump’s history of heated rhetoric on the topic, including on the campaign trail. Trump initially called during the campaign for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country, a move frequently cited by critics of the ban, which focused on individuals traveling from key high-risk countries and refugees.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the last of the lawsuits challenging the original ban from its calendar, citing the expiration of its provisions. But the legal battle remains alive in lower courts.

Trump issued a new executive order late last month — dubbed “Travel Ban 3.0” — which is already before the lower courts, and those challenges are likely to make their way back up to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis.

A federal judge in Hawaii has already issued a nationwide injunction blocking most of Trump’s newest travel ban.