Timeline of Executive Orders and Court Rulings

There have been two refugee-related executive orders released in the past few months, both of which ended up in the courts.  Here is a breakdown by date.

January 27th: The president releases the first executive order, effective immediately.

February 3rd: U.S. district court judge blocks the ban nationwide.

February 9th: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules against re-instating the executive order’s travel ban.  The White House chooses not to appeal the ruling.

March 6th: President releases a revised executive order, set to go into effect on March 16th, 2017.

March 15th: U.S. district court judge in Hawaii blocks revised executive order.

March 29th: Federal judge in Hawaii grants the state’s request for a longer halt of the revised executive order.

April 3rd: Department of State reportedly begins increasing refugee arrivals again.  Since the executive order remained blocked, they reverted to the original refugee ceiling number of 110,000 that was set for FY2017.

See more here.

 

What does the President’s Executive Order from January 27th, 2017 entail?

As it relates to refugee resettlement, the executive order:

  • Suspends all refugee arrivals for at least 120 days.
  • Calls for the development of a uniform screening procedure for all immigration programs
  • Gives future priority to refugees fleeing religious persecution
  • Suspends the admission of all Syrian refugees indefinitely
  • Suspends all entries (immigrant and nonimmigrant) for 90 days from countries considered to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”

You can read the full text of the executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, here.

 

How does the revised Executive Order, dated March 6th, 2017, compare with the first one?

As it relates to refugee resettlement, the revised order:

  • Removes language suggesting that religious minorities should receive preferential treatment
  • Does not indefinitely suspend Syrian refugees
  • Excludes Iraq from the list of ‘banned’ countries, meaning that Iraqi refugees will be accepted
  • Allows admission of refugees who were already cleared and scheduled to travel prior to effective date of the revised executive order
  • Still calls for a 120 day suspension of refugee arrivals, but indicates that refugee resettlement will resume after the 120 day period
  • Still seeks to decrease the FY2017 refugee ceiling from 110,000 to 50,000.
  • Still does not acknowledge that refugees were the only category of immigrants that were already being thoroughly vetted and continues to promulgate the image of refugees as terrorists

Full text of the revised executive order can be found here.

 

What was Tucson Refugee Ministry’s response to the initial executive order?

We originally released this statement:

“We are saddened and concerned by the recent executive order halting refugee resettlement and banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States.  Although the ban has been temporarily lifted, it has already created an atmosphere of fear and misunderstandings about refugees and other immigrants.

The potential of terrorism is a realistic concern, and we acknowledge the fear this generates.  While we should put measures in place to protect our nation, we can value security while also welcoming refugees.  We can acknowledge that refugees are people fleeing situations of violence, oppression, and injustice, and welcome those individuals who have passed the already strict security screenings.  A fear of terrorism ought not rationalize a fear of refugees.  We believe that safety and compassion are not mutually exclusive. We stand with refugees around the world who are vulnerable and victimized.

We at Tucson Refugee Ministry remain steadfast in welcoming refugees with love and compassion.  We believe that this is what God calls us to do– to love God, and to love our neighbor.  We pray that the Church – God’s people – will rise up to be a source of hope to refugees at this time.”

 

 

How many refugees have come to the United States and killed U.S. citizens or other individuals through acts of terrorism?

Zero.

Refugees are often lumped in with all immigrants.  Thus, it is a common misconception that the high-profile cases such as the Boston Bombers, the San Bernadino shooters, and the Orlando nightclub shooter were refugees.  They were not.  This article from CNN provides a brief summary of each of those attacks.

 

How many refugees have committed acts of terrorism in the United States?

Very few.  Only one carried out an attack with the intent to harm others: the young man who attacked a dozen people at Ohio State University in September 2016.   It appears that this young man was radicalized in the U.S. and that his radical ideology was the impetus behind his horrendous actions.

Three other individuals who came to the U.S. as refugees were arrested in 2011 and 2013 for involvement with and support of terrorist organizations abroad.  However, none committed an attack in the United States.

The revised executive order also mentions the case of a Somali man, who reportedly came to the U.S. as a child refugee.  He attempted to carry out an attack in Portland, Oregon, but was actually being monitored throughout the process by undercover agents as part of an FBI sting operation.  He was arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Since the beginning of the official resettlement program in 1980, nearly 3 million refugees have been admitted to the United States.  The incredibly low number of refugees who have been convicted of terrorism-related crimes is actually an argument for the reliability of the vetting process rather than an argument against it.  Statistically, Americans are more likely to die as a result of an asteroid impact, lightning strike, or shark attack than to be killed by a terrorist who entered the U.S. as a refugee.

 

Wouldn’t it be a good thing to screen refugees and all immigrants as thoroughly as possible?

Absolutely.  In order to provide protection to those fleeing persecution, we must maintain the security and sovereignty of our own country.  It is not only reasonable, but also good policy to screen immigrants and visiting non-immigrants, especially in the wake of terrorism around the globe.

What many people do not realize is that refugees have always been thoroughly screened, while most immigrants and visitors entering on visas are not.  In fact, the screening standards for refugees entering the United States has been re-assessed and strengthened over the years, particularly following 9/11.  The current vetting process takes a minimum of 18-24 months for refugee applicants to clear, though, in reality, it often takes years.  Refugees go through checks with multiple agencies including but not limited to: the Department of State, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, National Counter-terrorism Center, and Interpol.  Since many refugees may come from countries without existing databases, there are added elements including fingerprinting, biometric scans, and multiple in-person interviews.  If there are significant unanswered questions about an individual or if there is any reason to suspect ties to terrorism, then their case is simply denied.

The screening process should constantly be reviewed to ensure its effectiveness.  Additionally, it would be beneficial to institute a screening process for all immigrants entering the country, which is one positive aspect of this executive order.

 

Why would a “temporary” halt to refugee resettlement really be detrimental?

Refugee resettlement agencies in various localities around the country receive the majority of their funding from the federal government.  That funding is tied to refugee arrivals.  No arrivals for 120 days would also mean no funding from the government.  Agencies would be forced to lay off staff, and possibly even to shut down local offices.  If offices shut down, the capacity for refugee resettlement would be severely diminished in the future.  There are concerns that this may have been the intent all along.

In addition, the executive order revised the refugee ceiling for FY2017 from 110,000 to 50,000.  As of January 2017, approximately 32,000 refugees had already entered the United States during FY2017, meaning that only about 18,000 could still be admitted for the remainder of the year.  This severely affected the operation of refugee resettlement agencies, who had been preparing for twice as many arrivals this year.  Throughout February and March, arrival numbers for individual resettlement localities continued to fluctuate on a weekly or even daily basis, putting resettlement agencies in a state of constant disruption and reevaluation.  Staff were laid off, reassigned, or shuffled around as needs constantly changed as a result of cancelled (or delayed) arrivals.

 

Why can’t we simply help refugees where they already are? 

The ultimate solution to the refugee crises is stopping the wars and situations of persecution that create refugees.

In the meantime, we can help refugees where they are.  And we should.  It is important to support the individuals and organizations with “boots on the ground” in the UN camps and intermediary country locations such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  The needs are immense and we can do much to help.

But the reality is also that the countries hosting refugees are often overwhelmed and faltering under the immense burden of caring for so many additional people.   They simply cannot meet the immense needs of incoming refugees, and the strain affects their ability to provide for their own population, creating further instability in those regions.  Responsibility sharing for refugees (through resettlement) reassures host countries that they do not bear this burden alone, and that they are not “stuck” with the problem in isolation.

86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing nations whose infrastructure and economy are not stable enough to adequately care for an influx of additional people with extreme needs.  For example, the tiny nation of Lebanon is hosting over 1 million Syrian refugees, meaning that one in four people currently living in Lebanon is a refugee.

Refugee resettlement provides a viable, long-term solution to help relieve even a little of the burden that host countries bear.  Throwing money and resources at the situation will help in the short-term.  But it does not provide an effective, long-term solution when considering prolonged displacement.

 

But we can’t bring everyone here.

No, we can’t.  And the goal of refugee resettlement is not to bring “everyone” here.  Rather it is to provide safety to those who are the most vulnerable and who are unable to get the protection or assistance they need in the places where they currently reside.  Less than 1% of refugees worldwide are resettled to any of the 25+ resettlement nations.  Those we do resettle are the “worst of the worst”, typically those who are the most vulnerable, the most endangered, or in the most intractable circumstances.

Additionally, most refugees want to return home, not to go to a foreign land where language and culture are unfamiliar and where they will be separated from friends and family.  But sometimes, resettlement provides the only viable and long-term option for safety, opportunity, and survival.

The UNHCR estimates that approximately 8% of the 21.3 million refugees around the world are in need of resettlement.  We can easily provide safe haven for these most vulnerable individuals and families who need a permanent resettlement solution, while continuing to assist other refugees where they are with the hope that they will be able to return home in the future.

 

What can I do to help?

  1. Pray. For refugees.  For those who work with refugees.  For our leaders.  For our president.
  1. Contact your representatives here.  Let them know that you support the continuation of the refugee resettlement program.
  1. Reach out to refugees already in your community.  Reassure them that you stand behind them, love them, and support them.  Build relationships.
  1. Get informed and educate others.  Initiate open, non-judgmental dialogue with your friends, family members, and community about refugee resettlement.
  1. Invite friends and community to attend a Refugee Info Night (offered monthly) if they want to learn more or have questions.  You can find the dates of upcoming Refugee Info Nights here.

 

Last revised 4/10/17