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Trump Administration Orders New Vetting For Refugees


Imagine fleeing a brutal war, spending years in a refugee camp and finally being cleared for resettlement in the United States, only to be told you have to apply for entry to the U.S. all over again. That's what refugees overseas are facing now that the Trump administration has ordered new rules for vetting them. One of the organizations that helps resettle refugees in the U.S. is World Relief. Its president, Scott Arbeiter, joins me to talk about what the Trump administration's new policy will mean for his clients.

Mr. Arbeiter, welcome to the program.

SCOTT ARBEITER: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And why don't you describe the refugee screening process that's been in place for the last few years? How rigorous has that process been?

ARBEITER: It is the most rigorous process of any entry to any citizen coming into the United States. It is generated by the U.S. State Department. Refugees can only come if the U.S. State Department not only selects them but then subjects them to 18 to 24 months of rigorous scanning by biometric scans, multiple interviews from the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies. And of course, they can turn away any refugee that gives them any question about whether or not they might pose a threat.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the new rules under the new executive order. One part of this would require that refugees provide information on their places of residence going back 10 years instead of five years. What kind of information? And why do you think that poses a problem?

ARBEITER: Well, the difficulty is - I mean, we've resettled nearly 300,000 refugees at World Relief over 40 years, and we've come to know their stories. They left, in many cases, having lost family members, not knowing where they might be. And a 10-year look back where they're asked to name all close relatives, provide addresses and working telephone numbers is completely out of their reach when, in many cases, they have no idea whether these family members might be alive and, if they are, where they might be.

BLOCK: Now the Trump administration is also ordering even more restrictions on would-be refugees from 11 countries, most of them majority-Muslim countries. It's called enhanced vetting. And these are countries, according to the executive order, that have either deficiencies in identity management - as they put it - or a significant presence of terrorists. That sounds like a reasonable precaution. What's the problem that you see there?

ARBEITER: Well, first of all, we agree we need to be cautious. And wise and thorough vetting makes a great deal of sense, and we support that. The difficulty is many of the most traumatized victims of terrorism reside in those countries. To close the door completely would be inconsistent with the safety record that we already have. So all in all, it's against the people that are actually running from the very terrorists that we as a nation are rightly trying to stop.

BLOCK: The Trump administration has set a cap for admitting refugees; 45,000 is the number they settled on for next year. It's less than half the number that the Obama administration wanted to accept. How many refugees would you expect will actually be admitted to settle in the United States?

ARBEITER: The cap is the lowest that we've had set by a presidential determination, and it represents two tenths of 1 percent of the refugees in the world. And so just by itself in the greatest refugee crisis we've ever known with the best security vetting we've ever had, we've reduced it dramatically. Whether those 45,000 will make it in or not is a really hard question to answer. Many are concerned that the procedural and bureaucratic additions will mean that while there is the possibility of 45,000 practically, a much smaller number would get in.

BLOCK: And if the numbers are down so much, I imagine that has a pretty big impact on the kind of work that you do.

ARBEITER: Well, it does. I mean - but first and foremost, it's about people whose lives are literally at stake. And so we want to continue to meet the needs of those vulnerable people, we and other resettlement agencies. But this is not principally about us. It's about our American history, our moral and historic conscience of compassion towards the refugee peoples and the risks that they're in.

BLOCK: Scott Arbeiter is president of the group World Relief, which helps settle refugees in the United States. Mr. Arbeiter, thanks very much for your time.

ARBEITER: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.