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March 03, 2017

Trump’s “Pause” on Refugees Would Put a Wrench in the Entire System Indefinitely

This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post

President Trump’s executive order suspending refugee resettlement is not dead in the courts—the administration is preparing to issue a revised order, which Trump claims will be “tailored” to the Ninth Circuit court decision that temporarily suspended it. White House Policy Adviser Steve Miller asserted that the new order will have the “same basic policy outcome.”

A core outcome of both the January 27th order and the anticipated revised version is a so-called “pause,” as proponents describe it, on refugee resettlement for 120 days. But this four-month hiatus on refugee arrivals is not a pause at all. It would grind the entire system to a halt, possibly for years.   

All refugees resettled in the United States undergo “overlapping security screenings, interviews, medical checks,” that take an average of two years to complete and involve numerous national security and intelligence agencies before being cleared for admission to the United States. Syrians must clear 21 different steps.

As the Center for American Progress details, this tightly coordinated process leaves most refugees with less than a two-month window to travel to the United States. Families often have a smaller window, sometimes as little as a few days, during which all security checks, biometric screenings, and medical screenings are valid at the same time.

Even short delays in the resettlement process can spell disaster for refugees awaiting their window for resettlement to open, including those with life-threatening medical conditions. Resettlement agencies emphasize that “for some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, even a day-long delay could mean a death sentence.” According to the Center for American Progress, this “pause,” expected to reappear in the new version of President Trump’s order, “could ultimately decimate the resettlement program and leave vulnerable refugees stuck abroad indefinitely.”

To justify a pause, the Trump Administration argues that keeping Americans safe requires “extreme vetting” of refugees. Refugees are already extremely vetted.

Former national security and military leaders have resoundingly expressed their opposition to bans and pauses, emphasizing again and again that such an approach makes America less safe and undermines its leadership abroad. Moreover, it is precisely because refugees undergo the most extensive and complex vetting procedures applied to anyone entering the United States that a “pause” on resettlement will set off a domino effect that could delay resettlement efforts for years.

After his initial order was blocked, Trump stoked fear by claiming refugees were “flooding” into the United States. He was referencing a small number of refugees who had already been fully vetted and approved by U.S. officials and cleared by U.S. and international intelligence agencies.

Even if kept in place, the Obama Administration’s fiscal year 2017 resettlement goal of 110,000 refugees would fall far short of resettling the United States’ fair share of refugees. There are more than 21 million refugees globally, the most since World War II, yet less than one percent are resettled. Syria’s neighboring countries alone host the vast majority of the five million Syrian refugees. These countries, including key strategic U.S. partners, would dispute President Trump’s claims.  

The disruption to the resettlement system that would be set off by the proposed four-month suspension, and the resulting ripple effect described above, means the U.S. may not even reach President Trump’s reduced goal of 50,000 resettled refugees this year.

As the Trump Administration roles out its new order, don’t let his words fool you: “pause” means a wrench—a wrench that would grind resettlement to a halt and send the United states careening further away from its role as a global leader that respects and protects vulnerable refugees.