President Donald Trump's new executive order on travel and immigration has made the United States an even more unwelcoming place for the world's over 65 million refugees and displaced people. Signed on Mar. 6, the revised order calls for a 120-day suspension of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), in effect starting Mar. 16. And one chart in particular published by the Center for American Progress shows just how much the travel ban could hurt refugees.
Trump's new executive order reduces the limit of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. This makes it even more tedious for refugees to come to the United States — as if applying for refugee status in the United States wasn't already a long and difficult process in and of itself. To make matters worse, all of this is happening at a time when the world is seeing the most refugees there has ever been.
According to the State Department website, the processing time of applications for refugee status takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months. And, as the Center for American Progress points out, there are various security clearances each applicant must obtain, all of which expire after a certain amount of time. According to the progressive think tank, this gives refugees a period of 60 days during which they can legally resettle in the United States, meaning Trump's four-month suspension of the program will invalidate the applications of some of those that have already begun the process.
Part of understanding just how devastating this order will be to many refugees is becoming more familiar with the application process itself. Many people seeking admission to the United States through USRAP have been driven from their homes by persecution and war. Some have even endured trauma in their home countries and often in the refugee camps to which they escaped, as well. Before they can even begin to put their lives back together in the United States, though, they have to be referred to the State Department by a refugee agency. From there, the applicant undergoes a thorough interview with someone from the Resettlement Support Center, or RSC. The biographical information obtained during that interview is then submitted to U.S. officials for extensive review.
Next, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) security conducts an extensive background check of the refugee, which according to the State Department website is a more careful screening than that for any other traveller to America. The applicant's name is run through the Consular Lookout and Support System database, and, for some, a Security Advisory Opinion review and National Counterterrorism Center Inter-agency Check. Applicants who fail any of these are no longer eligible to go forward with the rest of the screening process.
Once security clearances are complete, DHS conducts another interview, via U.S. Intelligence Community officers, in-person in the country where the applicant is currently living. That interview is then checked against earlier collected information for any inconsistencies. The applicant's fingerprints and other biometric data are also collected at this stage and entered into three different federal databases—those of the FBI, DHS, and the Department of Defense. Fingerprints are screened through all three of these databases, and any application that doesn't pass is out.
Finally, once all those clearances are obtained, refugees must undergo a medical check to make sure they don't have communicable diseases such as Tuberculosis. Those who pass the medical check can move on. And then and only then is the applicant able to look forward to resettlement in the United States.
All of these steps would be mildly inconvenient to take on an average day from the comfort of your own home. Many of us can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to do so far from home after having experienced some of the worst days of your life. And unfortunately, thanks to Trump's executive order, many applications may time out even after they have obtained some or all of these clearances. And even more will be denied due to the new cap of 50,000 accepted refugees this year.
According to Pew Research Center, 84,995 refugees were admitted to the United States between September 2015 and September 2016. And nearly half of those admitted were Muslim. Additionally, over 1,136 refugees have been admitted since Trump took office on Jan. 20. Clearly, the world needs nations that are willing to open their arms to the many millions of people fleeing war, persecution, and other tragedies. But as Trump's executive order shows, the United States won't be welcoming in its fair share any time soon.