Trump administration considers pausing US refugee family reunification programme

Published: October 21, 2017
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A woman who is seeking asylum has her fingerprints taken by a US Customs and Border patrol officer at a pedestrian port of entry from Mexico to the United States, in McAllen, Texas, US, May 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

A woman who is seeking asylum has her fingerprints taken by a US Customs and Border patrol officer at a pedestrian port of entry from Mexico to the United States, in McAllen, Texas, US, May 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK: President Trump’s administration has drafted a plan to pause a programme that allows family members join refugees already settled in the United States until they can undergo increased security checks, two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

The measure is one of several being considered for refugees, the sources said.

The administration also may expand the use of intensive security checks by multiple federal agencies, called “security advisory opinions” (SAO) to apply to women from countries designated as high-risk by the US government. Currently, there are usually only mandatory SAOs, as they are called, for men from those countries, the sources said.

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The administration is also considering expanding the categories of refugees required to be fingerprinted, the sources said.

The proposals, if implemented, could significantly slow down refugee admissions and leave refugees who thought they were headed to the United States in perilous situations abroad, say refugee advocates and former officials.

David Lapan, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security said he could not comment on specific proposals that are still in the review process.

A State Department official also declined to comment while the review is underway and a White House spokesperson said they have no announcements at this time.

Republican President Donald Trump came into office in January with a goal of sharply cutting refugee admissions and quickly issued temporary bans on refugees and travellers from several Muslim-majority countries that were challenged in court.

A 120-day temporary ban on refugees, put in place to study current procedures, expires on October 24.

The sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorised to speak about the plans before they are announced, said the new measures could be announced at the end of the temporary ban.

Trump has said, “extreme vetting” of refugees and immigrants and visitors is needed to prevent terrorist attacks.

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The administration could pause the visa issuing process for “following-to-join” spouses and children of refugees who have already made it to the United States, known as V93 cases, the sources said. In 2015, just 3 per cent of the nearly 70,000 refugee arrivals were those types of beneficiaries, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Reports on the type of vetting measures being considered for our refugee resettlement programme are disturbing,” said Hans Van de Weerd, the Vice President of US Programmes at the International Rescue Committee.

They amount “to a desertion of victims of war and heinous persecution, who have done everything asked of them as they prepare to arrive to the US,” he said.

Refugees currently undergo differing levels of security checks when applying for admission to the United States in a process that can take 18-24 months.

“When you put in additional security checks you can basically halt the system,” said Robert Carey, the former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

“Every check is only good for a finite period of time and they expire and the whole process has to start all over again,” he said, adding that the level of scrutiny is higher for refugees than most any other visa applicant to the United States.

Trump also lowered the maximum number of refugees to be allowed into the United States in 2017 to 50,000 from the 110,000 originally set by Obama. The 2018 level has been set at 45,000, the lowest number in decades.

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