With about a week to go until his administration reaches the 100-day mark, President Trump’s campaign promises to halt Syrian refugee resettlement and tighten up the refugee vetting process remain largely unfulfilled.
Trump has reduced the overall number of refugees resettled, something that he implied but did not specifically promise on the campaign trail, but the level of reduction falls far short of the virtual halt many of his supporters had hoped to see.
President Trump’s most explicit statements about the refugee resettlement program during the campaign came at a November 6 rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, two days before the election.
“A Trump administration will not admit any refugees without the support of the local community where they are being placed,” he told a “crowd of more than 5,000 who greeted him at the Sun Country Airlines hangar of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport” (emphasis added):
“Hillary wants a 550 percent increase in Syrian refugees pouring into our country. And she wants virtually unlimited immigration and refugee admissions, from the most dangerous regions of the world, to come into our country and to come into Minnesota, and you know it better than anybody,” Trump said.
“Her plan will import generations of terrorism, extremism, and radicalism into your schools and throughout your communities,” he continued.
“When I’m elected president, we will suspend the Syrian refugee program and we will keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump announced.
“Here in Minnesota you’ve seen first hand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country, and all over the world,” Trump told the crowd.
“Everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota, everybody’s reading about it. You don’t even have the right to talk about it, you don’t even know who’s coming in, you have no idea. You’ll find out. You’ll find out,” he promised.
“And we will pause admissions from terror-prone regions until a full security assessment has been performed, and until a proven vetting mechanism has been established,” Trump added.
In FY 2016, President Obama’s last full year, 84,995 refugees were resettled in the United States. Forty-four percent were Muslims. Two countries–Syria with 12,587 refugees and Somalia with 9,020 refugees–accounted for just over 25 percent of all refugees.
In September, just a few weeks before the beginning of FY 2017, President Obama announced that he intended to set the ceiling for the number of refugees who could be resettled at 110,000–a 29 percent increase from the previous year. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the President announces an intended ceiling, but the number of refugees actually resettled is determined by Congress when it finalizes the budget for the year. More than halfway through FY 2017, Congress has only funded a total of 48,000 refugees for resettlement under the Continuing Resolution that expires on April 28.
During the three months and 20 days President Obama served during FY 2017 from October 1, 2016, to January 20, 2017, a total of 30,122 refugees were resettled in the United States, or about 2,300 per week, according to the State Department’s interactive website. During this period, 44 percent of refugees were Muslim, and two countries–Syria with 4,618 refugees and Somalia with 3,806 refugees–accounted for just over 27 percent of all refugees.
During the first three months of the Trump administration–from January 21 to April 21, 11,431 refugees were resettled in the United States, or about 900 per week. During this period, 42 percent of refugees were Muslim, and two countries–Syria with 1,417 refugees and Somalia with 1,305 refugees–accounted for just over 23 percent of all refugees.
Though the Trump administration has dramatically reduced the overall number of refugees to less than half the Obama administration rate for the first three months and 20 days of FY 2017, it has left the percentage of refugees arriving from Syria and Somalia–two of the most terror-prone countries in the world–virtually unchanged.
On that score, Trump has not yet delivered, though the recent court decisions on Executive Order 13769 and 13780 have contributed to that outcome.
President Trump attempted to honor those promises one week after he was inaugurated when he signed Executive Order 13769 on January 27, but the temporary 120 ban he sought on the inflow of refugees under the Refugee Admissions Program was halted by a federal district judge in Washington State on February 3. His subsequent revised Executive Order 13780, signed on March 6, which also sought a temporary 120-day ban on refugees was also halted, this time by two federal district judges in Hawaii and Maryland.
Both executive orders also called for a temporary 90 day travel ban on all visas issued to citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, countries that the Obama administration had already deemed to be havens of terrorism. Executive Order 13769 had also called for such a ban for citizens of Iraq. The same federal judges struck down these country specific travel bans as well.
Stymied by rulings of these federal courts, which most conservatives labeled extra-constitutional usurpations, the Trump administration has–so far–been unable or unwilling to use other legal means available to it to deliver on its campaign promises on refugees.
Although both executive orders instructed the Department of Homeland Security to initiate a study on how to tighten refugee vetting procedures, the results of that study have not yet been reported, nor does there appear to be any specific improvement in the vetting process currently transpiring.
On the health vetting process, for instance, the administration, which could easily add a requirement that all refugees be tested and treated for latent TB if positive prior to entry, has not done that.
Nor does there appear to be any substantive change in the vetting process for either Syrian or other Middle Eastern refugees, a procedure President Trump described as faulty prior to his election.
Much of the blame for this is attributable to the failure of the Trump administration to make key personnel changes at the highest levels of the two agencies responsible for the number and type of refugees who enter the country–the State Department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (PRM) and the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate (RAIO) of the USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security.
Two Obama administration holdovers committed to the prior administration’s pro-refugee policies remain in power at those agencies–Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of PRM Simon Henshaw, and newly named Associate Director of RAIO Jennifer Higgins.
In fact, three of the “Top Ten Holdover Obama Bureaucrats” Breitbart News identified in February that President Trump could remove or fire were at the BPRM and remain there almost 100 days into his administration:
7. Simon Henshaw, Acting Assistant Secretary, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
According to his State Department bio, Henshaw has been with PRM since 2013:
Mr. Henshaw is a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. His previous assignment was Director of Andean Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. From 2008 to 2011, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Mr. Henshaw joined the State Department in 1985.
8. Mark C. Storella, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
According to his State Department bio, Storella has been with PRM since 2016:
Ambassador Mark Storella, a member of the Senior Foreign Service, has a longstanding commitment to humanitarian affairs and human rights. He joined the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in June 2016 with responsibility for admission of refugees to the United States and refugee programming in the Near East and Asia regions.
9. Lawrence Bartlett, Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (civil service)
A long time official with PRM, Bartlett has been an active apologist for the refugee resettlement industry for many years.
“Communities certainly have a say in what happens [with regards to refugee resettlement locally],” Bartlett told an audience at a public forum in 2015, an assertion strongly disputed by opponents of the federal refugee resettlement program.
“We would not bring refugees to any city in the United States that wasn’t going to be safe for the refugees,” he added.
“I put a little twist on that on purpose,” Bartlett continued.
“I am certainly, as someone who is resettling a refugee, would not take them to a place where I felt the refugees themselves, was going to be unsafe. … The point is, if this was not a welcoming community, refugees wouldn’t be coming here. ”
One consequence of leaving these Obama holdovers in power at this agency at the center of the refugee resettlement process has been the Trump administration’s unnecessary acquiescence to the recent usurpation of constitutional executive authority when Judge Derrick Watson of the U.S. District Court of Hawaii temporarily halted the provision of Executive Order 13780 that set the limit of refugees to arrive in the United States in FY 2017 at 50,000.
“Last week, both The Huffington Post and World Net Daily reported that officials at the State Department have stated that, in response to judicial decisions, the State Department will be increasing the number of refugees resettled in the United States to 900 per week. The move confounded critics of the refugee resettlement program who supported President Trump through the campaign and his issuance of the two Executive Orders that have been halted by the decisions by federal judges in Washington, Hawaii, and Maryland,” Breitbart News reported this month:
Despite the recent statements from the State Department, it is not entirely clear if ORR currently has enough funding to pay for the resettlement of refugees at a rate of 900 per week for the balance of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30.
Congress has funded the federal budget for FY 2017 only partially until April 28, when the current continuing resolution expires.
Breitbart News previously estimated that current funding from that continuing resolution would cover only about 48,000 refugees for resettlement for the balance of the FY 2017, which is about 14,000 below the estimated 62,000-level that would be reached at the State Department’s recently announced 900 per week for the rest of the fiscal year.
As for Jennifer Higgins, who has spent much of her career at USCIS and now heads up one of its most important directorates, Breitbart News reported in February that “sources tell Breitbart News that the Department of Homeland Security, and in particular, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS], is a hotbed of career open borders ideologues, many of whom intend to directly and indirectly subvert President Trump’s agenda”:
“If you go down the list of current management at USCIS, probably 80 percent are open-borders left-wing ideologues,” a source, who has worked at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a decade and supports President Trump’s agenda, tells Breitbart News.
“USCIS probably has the most violent anti-border people in the United States. These are in the management. These do not believe in borders. I know them personally,” the source says.
“Jennifer Higgins, the recently named associate director of the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate (RAIO) of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is another Obama holdover at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) President Trump can remove,” Breitbart News reported this month:
Higgins is a protege of Lori Scialabba, the former acting director of the USCIS. Prior to her sudden resignation in March, Breitbart News identified Scialabba as the number one Obama holdover at DHS President Trump could “fire or remove” because of her open defiance of his first travel ban order and her long record of intervening down the chain to personally assist refugees from Iraq, some of whom were not approved through formal channels.
The improvement of the refugee vetting process was a key theme during President Trump’s campaign. Trump specifically instructed DHS to identify ways to improve the current refugee vetting process in both Executive Order 13769 and Executive Order 13780. Though key elements of both the initial and revised travel bans have been temporarily struck down in several federal courts, the refugee vetting task force has remained in effect.
Though the outgoing Scialabba arranged to have Higgins promoted from her previous official job as deputy associate director at RAIO to associate director there (without open competition for the position), Higgins has not actually done any work for the RAIO job for which she has been paid since early 2016, sources familiar with the operations of DHS tell Breitbart News.
Higgins has “a long history at RAIO, where by 2011, she served as deputy chief of the Refugee Affairs Division, one of three within RAIO,” Breitbart News reported (emphasis added):
“The Refugee Affairs Division provides resettlement benefits to people who are outside their countries and cannot or are unwilling to return to their homes because they fear serious harm,” according to the USCIS website. The other two divisions at RAIO are the Ayslum Division, which “manages the U.S. affirmative asylum process,” and the International Operations Division, which “with offices around the world, is the face of USCIS abroad.”
During that time, she “was 100 percent supporting the Obama administration in meeting their refugee targets. She browbeat employees to meet the Obama refugee targets,” a source familiar with the operations of DHS tells Breitbart News.
The Trump administration has made one move on the personnel front that opponents of the current refugee admissions program consider to be positive.
In March, President Trump appointed Scott Lloyd, a former attorney for the Knights of Columbus, as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within HHS. ORR administers the payments to voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) who resettle refugees subsequent to their arrival in the United States.
Unlike the two directors of ORR under President Obama, Lloyd is not part of the revolving door between top level employees of the ORR and the VOLAGs they are supposed to manage.
Besides the grand gestures of the two executive orders–one (13769) abandoned and the other (13780) tied up in the courts–the Trump administration has, to date, failed to deliver on its promises regarding suspending the resettlement of refugees from Syria and other “terrorist-prone” countries and improving the refugee vetting process.
That may change, however, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to staff the Department of Justice with more aggressive attorneys who will vigorously defend the Trump administration’s refugee policies in court. The Trump administration works with Congress on the Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the balance of FY 2017, and the Trump administration continues to consider personnel changes at both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.