The Trump administration’s latest travel ban and enhanced vetting protocols issued this week would significantly slow refugee resettlement in Utah and across the nation.
Administration officials claim it will enhance national security, but critics say it is clearly a politically-charged anti-immigration, anti-Muslim effort that would punish vulnerable men, women and children who are stranded in refugee camps.
Trump’s original 120-day ban on refugees expired Tuesday, but the administration re-booted the program with new restrictions, including enhanced vetting for all refugees and an additional 90-day review for 11 countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Of 84,994 refugees who were resettled in the U.S. during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2016 — 36,952 came from those 11 countries.
Patrick Poulin, the Utah director of the International Rescue Committee, said Friday the new executive order will hurt refugees.
“To have it politicized this way ... is quite frankly unacceptable,” he said. “It’s very sobering and very unfortunate.”
There are some 22 million refugees living in marginal conditions in camps in Africa, the Middle East and southeast Asia. There are estimated to be tens of millions more in what has been called that largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Trump already had reduced the number of refugees the U.S. would take in from 110,000 to 45,000. But even the reduced number may not be realized due to enhanced vetting, outlined in the executive order.
During the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, Utah resettled 377 refugees compared to 613 the previous year, Poulin said. In the month of October 2016, 63 refugees were resettled here. This October, only 12 refugees arrived.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement Wednesday that the new program is necessary and humane. It will allow the U.S. to “help some of the world’s most vulnerable people without compromising the safety and security of the American people.”
The new executive order, however, would not necessarily allow families to reunite.
Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah, described it as “very harsh.”
“If you left your wife and children, you wouldn’t be able to reunite with them,” he said. “It’s breaking families apart.”
Batar added that holding refugees up as a “national security issue” is baseless. Refugees already are the most vetted of any immigrant group, he said.
“There is no basis for the fear they are spreading,” he said of the administration. “Refugees are not our enemy ... none of them has ever harmed this country.”
The new ban is purely political, said Rev. John McCullough, the president and CEO of the New York City-based Church World Service. In a prepared statement, he called the executive order a “smoke screen” to fulfill Trump’s campaign promises to hard-liners.
“The Trump administration is seeking to dismantle the refugee resettlement program brick by brick, through any means necessary,” he said. “Now that their first attempts have been blocked in part by the courts, they are trying to achieve the same result of halting all refugee resettlement through these new policy changes.”
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also weighed in, saying the “Trump administration’s objectives are as odious as it’s tactics.”
“After having six months to review its policy under the March executive order, they have come back in October to re-impose what is an unreasonable ban that largely affects Muslims,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. “President Trump’s decision demonstrates his lack of understanding of the importance of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, both to our national security and to our global standing.”