Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, September 26, 2017
President Trump, in just eight months in office, has succeeded in upending U.S. refugee policy, cutting by more than half the 110,000-refugee target that the Obama administration had bequeathed him and dramatically shifting the demographics of who is accepted.
Gone is President Obama’s overwhelming focus on Muslims, and particularly on Syrians fleeing a civil war that his administration facilitated. Under Mr. Trump, the rate of Syrian refugees has been cut by more than 80 percent, and Christians have overtaken Muslims in total refugees resettled.
“It’s impossible to escape the clear message that there’s a new sheriff in town,” said Matthew O’Brien, research director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for stricter refugee controls.
Resistance by the courts, immigrant rights activists and Democrats on Capitol Hill dented those plans, but at the end of the fiscal year, it’s clear that the president mostly got his way.
As of Tuesday afternoon, with four days left in the fiscal year, the government had admitted slightly more than 53,000 refugees — less than half of Mr. Obama’s goal.
Perhaps the bigger impact was within the demographic breakdown, where Muslims dropped from nearly half of refugees under Mr. Obama to slightly more than a third. Christians, meanwhile, went from 43 percent to 53 percent under Mr. Trump.
Syrians, who represented a stunning 15 percent of all refugees under Mr. Obama, dropped to just 8 percent under Mr. Trump.
The State Department didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Times for this article.
Officials at the department are rushing to put together a recommendation for a refugee cap for fiscal year 2018, which begins Sunday.
Advocates say the U.S. puts refugees through stricter screening than any other category of visitor or immigrant to the U.S. and that fears of terrorists using the program to exploit weaknesses are overblown.
But security analysts say countries such as Syria are so broken that the U.S. doesn’t have access to databases or on-the-ground information to vet the stories of would-be refugees.
Mr. O’Brien said his group doesn’t oppose refugees, which he said are part of America’s moral obligation. But he said the government simply can’t vet all cases.
“In those situations in the past, the default position has been to look to the interests of the refugee. I think after Sept. 11 that is an impossible circumstance,” he said. “There are some people where it’s just not going to be possible.”
Mr. O’Brien said Mr. Trump is flexing the powers that the law grants the president, learning that he doesn’t have to work through Congress to make major changes.
Even as some in the U.S. protest Mr. Trump’s changes, the rest of the world is adjusting.
The UNHCR — which screens and recommends to the U.S. potential refugees from some of the world’s hot spots — has drastically slowed the pipeline.