2,070 Refugees Arrived in U.S. in March; 54% Drop From February

By Patrick Goodenough | April 3, 2017 | 4:29 AM EDT

A U.N. refugee agency camp in Garmawa, Iraq’s Ninawa province. (Photo: UNHCR/S.Baldwin)

(CNSNews.com) – The number of refugees admitted to the United States dropped in March to its lowest monthly tally of the current fiscal year, even as the implementation of President Trump’s latest immigration executive order continues to be held up by federal courts.

In a continuing declining trend, 2,070 refugees arrived during March, an approximately 54.79 percent drop from the 4,579 recorded in February, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.

The number has steadily declined in FY 2017, from 9,945 refugees admitted to the U.S. last October, to 8,355 in November, 7,371 in December and 6,777 in January.

 

Of the 2,070 refugees resettled in March, the largest contingents came from Somalia (335), Syria (282), Burma (278), Iraq (192), Democratic Republic of Congo (184), Ukraine (167) and Iran (101).

After an initial executive order ran into legal roadblocks, Trump issued a revised one on March 6 that once again sought to block all refugees from entering the country for 120 days. It dropped the original’s provision placing an indefinite ban on the admission of refugees from Syria, however.

The new order again included a ceiling on 50,000 refugees overall to be admitted during FY 2017. Trump declared that allowing more than that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The U.S. District Court in Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order preventing the administration from implementing the 120-day bar on refugee entry, (as well as a 90-day bar on entry of most citizens of six terror-prone countries – Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.)

Other parts of the order, including the 50,000 refugee admission ceiling for FY 2017, were not impacted by the court action and went into effect on March 16.

The 50,000 ceiling stands in sharp contrast to the Obama administration’s announcement last fall that the U.S. would resettle 110,000 this fiscal year.

With the fiscal year now halfway through, 39,098 refugees had arrived as of March 31, of whom 30,122 arrived before the end of the Obama administration and 8,967 since Trump’s inauguration.

 

The countries of origin of the biggest groups of resettled refugees in FY 2017 are the Democratic Republic of Congo (6,698), Syria (5,839), Iraq (5,676), Somalia (4,917), Burma (3,270), Ukraine (2,600), Bhutan (2,132), Iran (1,969) and Afghanistan (1,027).

Of the six terror-susceptible countries whose citizens (as opposed to those seeking refugee status) were banned for entry under the now suspended executive order, four are well-represented in the FY 2017 refugee admission statistics: Syria (5,839), Somalia (4,917), Sudan (627), and Iran (1,696). The last two, Yemen and Libya, accounted for just 18 and three refugees respectively.

Syrian refugees have been in the spotlight especially because of fears that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) would try to exploit refugee admission programs to infiltrate operatives into the West.

After the deadly ISIS terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, French authorities confirmed that two of the terrorists involved had been carrying fake Syrian passports.

“Some terrorists are trying to get into our countries and commit criminal acts by mixing in with the flow of migrants and refugees,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned fellow European Union countries at the time.

The Obama administration maintained that the vetting process for refugees was the most robust of any for those wanting to travel to the U.S.

But concerns have also been raised about limits on U.S. security agencies’ ability to vet refugee applicants from Syria, given the ongoing civil war.

Weeks before the Paris attack, FBI Director James Comey addressed the difficulties at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

“If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home but we’re not going to – there’ll be nothing to show up, because we have no record of that person,” Comey said. “You can only query what you’ve collected.”

The U.S. has admitted 18,135 Syrian refugees since the Paris attacks, including 5,839 during FY 2017, and 1,221 since the start of the Trump administration.

Of the 18,135 admitted since the Nov. 2015 attacks, 98.8 percent were Muslims, 0.9 percent Christians, and 0.3 percent Yazidis and others.

Of the 1,221 Syrian refugees admitted since the start of the Trump administration, 98.5 percent were Muslims, 1.2 percent Christians and 0.2 percent Yazidis.

The Syrian conflict has impacted citizens of all religious and ethnic groups, although the Obama administration determine a year ago that Christians and Yazidis were being targeted for genocide in areas under the control of the Sunni jihadists of ISIS.

Trump’s revised executive order dropped a provision in the original one that called for the prioritizing of refugees from religious minorities.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow