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Can President-Elect Donald Trump Ban Refugees from Syria to the US?

Refugee admissions came to a halt once before after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001

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Supporters place a sign welcoming Syrian refugees is placed at the entrance to the office of the Arizona governor during a rally at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Nov. 17, 2015. VOA
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Nov 18, 2016: As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump expressed interest in turning away refugees, specifically those from Syria. He said he would ban Muslim immigrants in general (a talking point that remains on his campaign website). And in November, he advocated limiting immigration from “terror-prone regions.”

But could President Trump immediately stop refugees from coming to the U.S.?

The short answer – yes.

“Day 1 he can change things,” says Jeremy Mayer, associate professor of politics at George Mason University.

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With about nine weeks to go before the 45th president is sworn into office, his plan regarding refugees remains unclear. But it is within the purview of the U.S. president to decide which groups of refugees – who by definition are fleeing persecution in their home countries – will make the cut. And he won’t need Congressional support.

“He can’t remove [the Refugee Act of 1980] from the books, but he can certainly reduce the numbers and reduce the numbers from certain regions,” says Kevin Appleby, senior director of International Migration Policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

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Could that mean no refugees would be allowed in after the inauguration on Jan. 20?

“Technically, yeah,” says Appleby. “He has a lot of power in terms of who comes in and the number of people who come in.”

About 14,500 Syrians were approved for resettlement and have moved to the U.S. since last October. The U.N. Human rights agency, UNHCR, estimates nearly 1.2 million refugees are in need of permanent resettlement because they cannot return to their home countries, with Syrians accounting for 40 percent of that worldwide total.

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Where rhetoric meets policy

The U.S. has a decades-long history of resettling refugees. Without support from Congress, a president cannot change the law at the heart of the refugee program.

But according to that law, the president has broad, unilateral power over how many refugees are admitted, and where they come from. Before the beginning of each fiscal year, the president establishes how many refugees will be allowed into the U.S.

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President Barack Obama raised that figure – the so-called admissions ceiling – from 70,000 to 85,000 in Fiscal Year 2016, largely to accommodate an increase in Syrian refugees. The number of those fleeing civil war and Islamic State militants in the country has continued to multiply. The Obama administration raised the ceiling to 110,000 for the current fiscal year, which extends through September 2017.

Trump could use his executive powers to maintain that level, reduce it, pause the program, or restrict refugees from certain countries. Experts say he could also create a work-around to effectively ban Muslims, for example, by ordering that only certain persecuted groups – say, Christians in Syria or Iraq – be considered for admission, while omitting Muslims from that protected category, though they may have fled the same dangers.

Long pro-refugee tradition

Experts and researchers on refugee policy maintain the U.S. program is respected internationally. The country permanently resettles more refugees through the UNHCR system than any other.

“If the U.S. pulls back, it would be a humanitarian disaster. Other nations won’t necessarily step up to fill the breach,” says Appleby.

“What we know is that throughout the history of the U.S., refugees and immigrants have been welcomed by presidents of both parties, during war and peace,” says Stacie Blake, spokesperson for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. “During this global refugee crisis of unprecedented proportion, it is no time to shrink from this leadership.”

Trump said on the campaign trail that the refugee vetting process is nonexistent, an allegation that the current government and non-profit organizations working with refugees have repeatedly disputed.

“I share the questions as to how the rhetoric [from Trump] will be interpreted in the realm of policy and practice. We don’t know,” says Westy Egmont, director of the Immigrant Integration Lab at Boston College.

Egmont sees a campaign cycle in which conservative candidates seized on discussions about Islamic State and other acts of violence, and “perhaps misassociated it with refugees, and fed a confusion in the popular mind.”

Refugee admissions came to a halt once before after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But within two years, under new procedures, arrivals began again and hovered around 60,000 to 70,000 throughout much of the last decade.

Despite political backlash against refugees last year, Egmont remains optimistic about the future of the program.

“Most people just do not have opportunity to know refugees personally enough, to know the years they’ve suffered in miserable living environments,” he added. “I believe the long arc of history is just, and the United States will continue to both welcome newcomers and to right any wrong that might be taken in any short term initiative.”

From Oct. 1 until Nov. 16, 14,568 refugees have arrived in the U.S., according to State Department data. Democratic Republic of Congo is the top country of origin, with nearly 3,500 individuals, followed by Somalia, Syria and Iraq, each of which had roughly 2,000 refugees admitted to the U.S.

Only in 2015 did the U.S. significantly answer the appeal by UNHCR to increase Syrian refugee admissions, focusing additional personnel on Jordan to process more applications.

The Obama administration says there will be no similar last-minute effort to increase refugee arrivals to the U.S. ahead of possible cuts to the program.

“We have no plans to accelerate the refugee admissions process,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email this week. (VOA)

 

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Climate Change Not A Hoax: Trump

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida

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Climate Change
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump is backing off his claim that climate change is a hoax.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump told CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes “I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again…I’m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over millions of years.”

Trump has over the years called global warming a hoax and had once called it a Chinese plot aimed at wrecking the U.S. economy.

climate change
People clean up their house that was destro. yed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach. VOA

Trump told 60 Minutes he does not know if global waning is manmade, despite the scientific research showing that pollution and human activity is the major contributor. He said he does not want to give “trillions and trillions of dollars” and lose “millions and millions of jobs” to prevent it.

Most scientists link a warming planet with storms that are more intense. Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle last week as the strongest storm to strike the continental United States in nearly 50 years.

Trump said there have been hurricanes that were “far worse” than Michael and said scientists calling for action on climate change have a “very big political agenda.”

Meanwhile, the town of Mexico Beach, Florida was just about wiped off the face of the earth by Hurricane Michael.

“Mexico Beach is devastated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott says. “It’s like a war zone.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael. VOA

Michael’s 250 kilometer per hour winds left only a handful of buildings standing. Concrete slabs are left where houses and stores thrived. Only a few trees are left. The main U.S. highway that goes through the town is not drivable.

Mexico Beach police chief Anthony Kelly told VOA’s Spanish Service, “When you come here and see the devastation, it’s hard, it’s emotionally hard.”

“We know each person in the majority of the houses. They know us,” Kelly said. “All these people are close to us. And now we’re going around the neighborhoods making sure that they’re not in any of these houses that are so extremely damaged.”

“Looking in the debris, seeing photos of grandkids, people that we know that have come back here year after year, that’s the emotional side,” he said. “I’ve got officers that this is their first catastrophic event, and it’s hard to explain to them, you know, it’s going to get better, because they’re seeing reality.”

The town’s medical manager, Patricia Cantwell, said, “It’s extremely sad that the devastation has been so rampant throughout the Panhandle” of the state.

“Having lived through Hurricane Andrew in south Florida (in 1992), it’s going to take a while,” she told VOA. “It’s one day at a time. It looks overwhelming to start, but, you know, one day at a time. It’s going to take years to get things back up and running.”

Climate Change
Scenes of devastation in Mexico Beach, Florida in the aftermath for Hurricane Michael.. VOA

Brock Long, the head Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the death toll in Mexico Beach could rise, as rescue workers continue to search the rubble left behind by the storm. It could take another 10 days to compile a damage estimate.

Some physical structures in the town were lifted off their moorings and moved hundreds of meters away by the winds and storm surge from the storm. Other buildings were left in masses of debris, demolished beyond recognition.

Also Read: US First Lady Melania Trump Starts The Final Leg of Her Africa Trip

President Trump signed a declaration Sunday saying the federal government will, for now, pay for 100 percent of the cleanup in Florida, temporarily easing the financial burden from the state. (VOA)