President Donald Trump on Tuesday allowed the resumption of refugee admissions as a complete ban he instituted four months ago expired, but the administration is adding "enhanced" screening procedures and a 90-day review for nationals from 11 countries believed to pose a higher risk to U.S. national security.
The temporary ban, which President Donald Trump fought to implement since January and finally proceeded with in late June after a Supreme Court decision, allowed officials to review security procedures and set tougher screening procedures.
Jennifer Higgins, associate director for refugees at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, said applicants will face "enhanced" vetting as a result of the review, including more in-depth checks of their social media presence and connections.
Trump issued an executive order directing relevant government agencies to resume refugee processing, which he clamped down on shortly after taking office. Trump argued that the U.S. needed to do a better job determining whom it allowed into the country given the threat of terrorism.
Under an executive order Trump signed earlier this year, the United States had temporarily halted admissions for refugees from all countries, with some exceptions. That order expired Tuesday and was replaced by the new one.
Officials declined to describe the new screening procedures in detail, but they include such measures as collecting additional information to better determine whether refugees are being truthful about their status; stationing fraud detection officers at certain locations overseas; and improving training for adjudicators who process refugee applications.
Trump has made limiting immigration a centerpiece of his policy agenda.
Besides the travel ban, which initially targeted a handful of Muslim-majority nations, the president rescinded an Obama-era executive action protecting immigrants brought to the country as minors from deportation. He also has vowed to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to "stop the massive inflow of refugees" and warned that terrorists were smuggling themselves into naive countries by posing as refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
"Thousands of refugees are being admitted with no way to screen them and are instantly made eligible for welfare and free health care, even as our own veterans, our great, great veterans, die while they're waiting online for medical care that they desperately need," Trump said last October. Trump has advocated keeping refugees closer to their homes.
The new order will accompany a sharp cutback on refugee admissions under Trump. President Barack Obama set the refugee cap, for the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2017, at 110,000. But after becoming president, Trump slashed that to 53,000 even as he fought to put in place a full ban. For fiscal year 2018, Trump has cut the maximum number to 45,000. Officials declined to list the 11 countries, but said they are the same as on a 2015 list for tougher screening, requiring a "Security Advisory Opinion."
Refugee agencies pointed to the affected countries as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. All but North Korea are mainly Muslim populations, and in the past have been the source of the largest portion of U.S. refugee admissions.
They represent close to half of all the refugees entering the United States. In fiscal 2017, out of 53,716 refugees the US accepted, 22,150 came from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Somalia. The officials said the government would still review certain special cases from the 11 countries, without describing what would qualify them.