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March 06, 2017

Revised Executive Order on Refugees Continues to Betray Ideals, Put America at Risk

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned President Trump’s executive order signed today suspending the refugee resettlement program, and banning the issuance of new visas and entry to the United States to nationals of six Muslim-majority countries. The order, which revises an earlier attempt to ban individuals from the United States that has been rejected by federal courts, will continue to damage U.S. national security and global leadership. 

“This order is essentially religious discrimination masquerading, once again, in the language of national security. The order targets people from Muslim-majority countries and will sharply reduce resettlement of Muslim refugees. Legal word-smithing cannot obscure the discriminatory intent and impact of the order,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Not only does this order trample upon U.S. commitments to religious freedom, non-discrimination, and refugee protection, but former national security officials from both sides of the aisle agree that these kinds of bans make our nation less safe.” 

The revised order removed a number of provisions included in the initial January 27 executive order. The new version: does not apply to legal permanent residents or visa holders, removes language prioritizing and providing exceptions for religious minorities, does not specify an “indefinite” ban on resettlement of Syrian refugees, and deletes Iraq from the list of targeted countries. The order does include bans on resettlement and on the issuance of new visas and entry from the six countries, which will last at least—and potentially more than—120 and 90 days respectively. Human Rights First calls on the Trump Administration to withdraw this order, to add any necessary security vetting enhancements—based upon assessments of officials with relevant expertise—without counterproductive bans and suspensions, and to refrain from attempts to block resettlement or entry of Muslims or otherwise discriminate based on religion or nationality.    

Human Rights First welcomes the removal of Iraq from the list of targeted countries, which should allow continued issuance of special immigration visas (SIVs) to eligible Iraqis, however the organization notes that the order would suspend resettlement of thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives to work with the U.S military, government or other U.S. entities. These men and women and their families face grave threats due to their work with Americans and the American government.  

“The revised executive order continues to undermine American leadership and sends exactly the wrong message to our allies in the Middle East. Despite the exemption of Iraq, the inclusion of the other six Muslim-majority countries demonstrates that this order is a thinly-veiled attempt to block Muslims from entering the United States,” said said Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Iraq. “Furthermore, many Iraqis who worked with the United States will remain at risk as they are stuck in the halted refugee admissions pipeline. Leaving these brave men and women in grave danger is not what our country stands for."

The order would also reduce the United States’ refugee resettlement program from 110,000 to 50,000, a shameful abdication of leadership as the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II. While ten percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are estimated to need resettlement, only about one percent have access to resettlement. This drastic reduction in U.S. resettlement may encourage other countries to do likewise, leaving front-line countries, such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, which host nearly five million Syrian refugees alone, struggling to host all of them. These and other developing countries already host the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees. The ban would also end resettlement for the foreseeable future as most refugees have medical and security clearances that will expire during the 120 days. They will have to begin again the months-long procedure of securing the necessary clearances to come to the United States.  

“Halting the resettlement of all refugees, including Syrians, is not just cruel, but it also plays into the hands of ISIS and other extremists who thrive on the message that the United States is anti-Muslim,” said Matthew G. Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. "Refugees are rigorously vetted through a long process involving thorough checks by multiple security agencies, and any needed changes can continue to be made without a need to suspend the entire process." 

The United States’ refugee vetting procedures—which include extensive and often grueling interviews as well as multiple rounds of security vetting with a wide array of U.S. and international intelligence and law enforcement agencies—are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. Former CIA directors, national security advisors, and secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security have explained that resettling refugees advances U.S. national security interests, and that halting refugee resettlement harms U.S. national security.  

A recent draft report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security found that country of citizenship is not likely a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity and that citizens from the seven countries banned under President Trump’s initial executive order were rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism.   

“This country can both safeguard its security and protect the persecuted,” added Acer. 

For more information or to speak with Acer, Crocker, or Olsen contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.