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14 Sep 2017

White House rewrites refugee rules In setting new limits on refugees

Nine months after President Trump issued his first travel ban, the Supreme Court weighed in again Tuesday, this time granting the administration’s request to bar most refugees, including those with “formal assurances” from local resettlement agencies that they have a place to stay. The decision comes as the administration prepares to set a refugee cap for the coming fiscal year — without the usual input from humanitarian agencies, who fear the limit will be at an all-time low.

About 24,000 refugees awaiting processing were thrown back into limbo by the court’s ruling, after a short-lived reprieve from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled last week that ties to a resettlement agency would qualify for admission under the president’s second version of a travel order.

In June, the Supreme Court allowed portions of a revised executive order to go into effect. The move barred travelers from six predominately Muslim countries for 90 days and refugees for 120 days unless they could prove a “bona fide” relationship with a “person or entity in the U.S.” The administration had been interpreting this as requiring a close relative living in the States. Tuesday’s ruling reverses the lower court’s decision, again excluding refugees’ ties to resettlement agencies. But resettlement agencies say that even if the flow of refugees was reinstated, damage has already been done and the administration’s signals point to further dismantling of the program as a whole.

Admissions for this year are already down 60 percent from last year, and when the president sets his ceiling on admissions for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, they are widely expected to be lower still. President Trump lowered the cap for the current year to 50,000, the lowest ever set by a president and well below the annual average of more than 95,000.

The determination is to be made “after appropriate consultation with Congress,” a state department official says. But historically the process has included input not just from Congress but from other agencies within the executive branch and outside groups, including multiple humanitarian agencies, says Ronnie Newman, director of strategic initiatives at the American Civil Liberties Union. Newman, who formerly served as the director of refugee protection on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama and has drafted past presidential determinations, said the process is “elaborate” and can take up to eight months.

For almost four decades, the U.S. has conducted refugee resettlement as a public-private partnership that has never been subject to party politics. This year, though, two of the largest resettlement agencies, the International Rescue Committee and HIAS, say they have not yet been consulted by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security or the White House regarding refugee admissions.

The State Department declined to respond to the resettlement agencies’ assertion, citing “internal deliberations.”

Both IRC and HIAS work in the world’s most vulnerable nations and along with other organizations have resettled more than 3 million refugees. This is the first year they have not been consulted on setting a refugee cap.

“It’s very unclear how [the administration] is making policy, particularly on refugee issues, because it’s not being made consulting with the organizations and experts who have always been a part of this process,” says Melanie Nezer, senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS.

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