More than 61,000 people fleeing persecution and violence may have their applications to come live in the United States delayed, according to refugee resettlement charities.
By Francie Diep
Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf (front left) leaves O’Hare Airport with her family after arriving on a flight from Istanbul, Turkey, on February 7th, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump issued a new executive order today, suspending America’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days and halting travel to the United States from six Middle Eastern and North African countries for 90 days. During that time, federal agencies are supposed to review the traveler and refugee vetting process.
The order comes after courts struck down key parts of a similar ban that Trump signed last month, and the White House wrote the order with an eye to placating the judiciary. But to many of the refugees, the revisions may not make much of a difference. “It’s still a refugee ban,” says Jen Smyers, a director for Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program, which is one of nine charities that work with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. “We’re looking at it really having the same impact as the original version.”
“It’s still a refugee ban.”
The new order affects more than 60,000 refugees who have been approved by the Department of Homeland Security to come into the U.S., but haven’t yet booked their travel, according to Church World Service numbers. They will now have their applications temporarily frozen. “It really grinds the program to a halt because refugees only have a two-month travel window,” Smyers says, “so a four-month suspension means that every single person is going to see at least one security check expire.” Re-doing expired checks may take folks years, Smyers says.*
In addition, 887 refugees have booked their flights to the U.S. and will need to make it into the country before the new executive order takes effect on March 16th, or they’ll risk delay, as well.
Not all of the affected are citizens of the six countries — Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia — that the Trump administration has deemed especially dangerous. About 7,000 are from Myanmar; about 9,000, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and nearly 10,000, from Iraq, which Trump removed from his original travel ban list because of “the close cooperative relationship between the United States and the democratically elected Iraqi government” and “Iraq’s commitment to combat ISIS,” according to the new executive order. About 31,000 affected refugees come from the six nations that are under the travel ban.
The U.S. has already settled about 37,000 refugees in this fiscal year, which began in October. Trump has set a limit of 50,000 new refugees for fiscal year 2017, after the Obama administration had promised 110,000 could come.
“It’s incredibly discouraging,” Smyers says. “These are people we’ve promised to protect, whom we’re turning our backs on.”
*Update — March 7, 2017: This article previously reported more than 50,000 refugees have been approved by the Department of Homeland Security to come into the U.S. and more than 10,000 have booked flights. In fact, more than 60,000 refugees are DHS approved and 887 have booked flights.