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January 25, 2017

Executive Orders Halting Refugee Resettlement Dangerous to National Security

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged the Trump Administration to refrain from issuing executive orders that would suspend the U.S. refugee resettlement program and end U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees, moves that would abdicate U.S. leadership in protecting the persecuted. Several of the provisions reportedly included in the executive orders—which appear aimed at ending resettlement of Muslims from Muslim-majority countries—would effectively operate as a ban blocking Muslims from visiting, working, immigrating, or receiving refuge in this country.    

“The provisions reportedly included in these orders would be harmful to U.S. national security interests, undermining American leadership and sending exactly the wrong message to U.S. allies in the Middle East. Resettlement of persecuted refugees has a long history of bipartisan support, and not only reflects American ideals but also advances U.S. national security interests by supporting allies who are struggling to host large numbers of refugees. The orders would also appear to leave Iraqis and Afghans whose lives are at risk because of their work with the United States stranded in danger for even longer,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “As refugees are already extremely rigorously vetted before entering the United States, these moves appear to be about reducing refugee resettlement overall and blocking resettlement from mostly Muslim countries.”

The executive order relating to resettlement would reportedly suspend visas, immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from some Muslim-majority countries, end the Syrian refugee program, suspend the refugee resettlement program for 120 days, lower the target for refugees admitted into the United States to 50,000, and prioritize religious minorities for entry into the United States, thus restricting resettlement of Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority countries. Human Rights First notes that the United States has based its resettlement program on vulnerability, and should not prioritize only religious minorities over those persecuted based on the race, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and political opinion, as well as those who face persecution based on religion but are not part of a religious minority.

“Turning our back on vulnerable refugees doesn’t protect the United States—in fact, it plays into ISIS’s false narrative that we are at war with all Muslims, instead of terrorist organizations,” said Matthew G. Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Our refugee screening system is rigorous and thorough, and attempts to end or derail resettlement are simply contrary to our national interest.” 

The United States’ refugee vetting procedures 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.

Secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security, along with former ambassadors and other officials from the Defense Department, State Department, and White House confirm that “refugees are vetted more thoroughly than any other category of traveler seeking to arrive in the United States.” Former homeland security secretaries Janet Napolitano and Michael Chertoff, who served under Obama and Bush respectively, state: “The process for any refugee seeking entry to the United States requires the highest level of scrutiny from a law enforcement and national security perspective.”

"Banning the admission of Syrian refugees contradicts American values, undermines American leadership and threatens American security by making the ISIS case that we are at war with Islam. The provisions reportedly included in the order also threaten the lives of Iraqis and Afghans who risked their safety to help the United States and our servicemembers by exacerbating the backlogs they face,” said Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Iraq.  

Various reports indicate that the order would bar or suspend resettlement, immigration, and visas from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Syria and other countries. Such an approach would endanger the lives of Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives to work with American servicemembers as translators, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, logisticians, cultural advisors, and soldiers. These men and women and their families now face grave threats for working to advance U.S. interests.

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan continue to host the majority of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.

For more information or to speak with Acer, Olsen, or Crocker contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.