U.S. refugee program for citizens of all countries will be suspended for
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Amid court orders and airport demonstrations against a presidential
order banning entry into the United States of citizens of seven Muslim
nations, another aspect of President Donald Trump's immigration order
has been overshadowed: It suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions program
for all nations for 120 days.
In fiscal 2015, 70,000 people from around the world arrived in the
United States under the refugee program and since 1975, more than 3
million refugees have taken advantage of the resettlement program
because they have "a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion,
race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular
social group," according to the State Department.
Under the executive order issued by Trump on Friday, the refugee program
is on hold for four months while the secretary of state and the
secretary of homeland security review the process and application
procedures to see if additional measures are needed "to ensure that
those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the
security and welfare of the United States."
In 2015, the United States accepted the most refugees from Burma
(18,385); Iraq (12,6760); Somalia (8,858); the Democratic Republic of
the Congo (7,876); Bhutan (5,775); and Iran (3,109).
But the numbers change from year to year depending on where the
political hot spots are and where persecution escalates. Three of those
countries — Iraq, Somalia and Iran — are on the list of seven countries
whose citizens — refugees and non-refugees alike — will be excluded from
entering the United States for the next 90 days.
In the same fiscal year, 2,300 refugees from Latin America and the
Caribbean were admitted with most coming from Cuba (1,527) and Colombia
When the refugee program is reinstated, barring any additional changes
to the current directive, the number of refugees who may enter the
United States is capped at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017. A higher figure,
according to the order, "would be detrimental to the interests of the
Refugees still might be admitted while the program is under review but
only on a "case-by-case basis" and only if it is determined that their
admission is in the "national interest."
"We find these measures cruel, inhumane and in violation of
international law," said Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Amnesty
International's advocacy director for the Americas. "The United States
has obligations when it comes to refugees. Accepting refugees has always
been a part of what the United States stands for morally."
The United States is a signatory to the Hague Convention, "and it
requires signatories to accept refugees," said Wilfredo Allen, a Miami
immigration attorney. But he said a temporary suspension of the refugee
program might not be enough for the United States to be in violation of
Those who have already applied for refugee status could still be
admitted when the review is completed and under any new procedures that
might be implemented. When the refugee program resumes, the secretaries
of state and homeland security are directed "to prioritize refugee
claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution,
provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in
the individual's country of nationality."
Although a specific religion isn't mentioned, it is presumed that the
order would give priority to Christian refugees over Muslims.
The abruptness of the president's order and its scope caught many off
guard and is causing lots of confusion.
Although both refugees and asylum seekers may be fleeing persecution,
"they are two different things," Allen said.
Refugee status applies only to an individual abroad who seeks protection
from persecution, for example, at a U.S. Embassy or diplomatic mission,
said Eduardo Soto, a Coral Gables immigration lawyer. "Asylum is a
different policy and a different process," he said.
Cubans, for example, arriving at a U.S. border point may still apply for
asylum if they can establish a "credible fear" of persecution if they
return to their homeland. A Cuban arriving at a U.S. airport with a
visitor's visa also could ask for asylum.
"I have a Cuban client now, detained at the border," who told me by
phone that he fears returning to Cuba," said Soto.
Neither the suspension of the refugee program nor the end of the "wet
foot, dry foot" policy, which permitted Cubans who reached U.S.
territory without a visa to enter the country, will affect the Cuban
family reunification program or a visa lottery program that allows at
least 20,000 Cuban migrants annually to come to the United States. Those
applications are processed through the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
But thousands of Cuban doctors and other medical professionals currently
stranded in Colombia or other countries, after leaving international
missions where they worked on behalf of the Cuban government, could get
caught up in the refugee suspension. In the latter days of the Obama
administration, a special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program was
eliminated, throwing their future into limbo.
With Trump's suspension of the refugee program that avenue appears
closed to them — at least temporarily. "The suspension of the refugee
program may affect these Cuban doctors. It's a big question on how it
[Trump's order] will be applied," Allen said.
But he said to him it's clear that permanent U.S. residents from the
seven countries — Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen —
cannot just be sent back when they arrive at U.S. airports: "A lawful
permanent resident stopped at the airport has every right to come into
the United States and fight their case before a judge."
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to Trump on Monday
expressing concern that "numerous people were detained at U.S. ports of
entry, including an Iraqi interpreter who served alongside our troops."
While he said protecting the United States from the "diabolical threat
of terrorism is imperative to our national security," he urged the
president "to develop policy that keeps America safe, builds trust with
our partners, and demonstrates compassion to those who need our help."
South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she, too, was
opposed to the president's action.
"In no case," she said, "should the order be applied against individuals
who have already received U.S. visas, that are permanent and legal
residents of the United States, or those who have been given legal
status as refugees."
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Source: Trump's immigration order affects citizens of all nations |
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