Last week, President Trump issued a new executive order (EO) that restarts the refugee system with new “enhanced” vetting procedures. The new procedures will subject the follow-on family members of refugees to about the same level of vetting as the original refugee sponsors who have already been settled in the United States. This extension of the current refugee vetting system will cover about 2,500 additional follow-on refugees per year. The EO also forward-deploys specially trained Fraud Detection and National Security officers at refugee processing locations to help identify potential fraud, national security, and public safety issues earlier in the screening process. Additional actions of the EO are enhanced questions to identify fraud and other inadmissible characteristics as well as upgrades to databases to detect potential fraud or changes in refugee information at different interview stages. The EO also directs the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to review and reform refugee vetting procedures on an annual basis.
The EO justifies these new measures by stating that, “It is the policy of the United States to protect its people from terrorist attacks and other public-safety threats … Those procedures enhance our ability to detect foreign nationals who might commit, aid, or support acts of terrorism, or otherwise pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States, and they bolster our efforts to prevent such individuals from entering the country.”
All in all, these new vetting procedures are modest additions to the already intensive refugee screening that occurs. If these new enhanced screening procedures are supposed to be the “extreme vetting” that President Trump proposed then they show just how extreme and secure the refugee program already was. Furthermore, they are unnecessary.
Terrorists by Refugee-Restricted Countries
The EO also places additional scrutiny on refugees from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Those eleven nations represent supposed security threats identified on the Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) – a government list of nations established in the 1990s whose nationals are supposed to be more closely scrutinized for particular national security threats. The government has updated and expanded the SAO criteria as well as the nations on the list multiple times since 9/11.
The government may have an excellent rationale for designating nationals from these eleven countries as serious threats that require more refugee vetting but those reasons and the evidence supporting them are not available for the public to examine. Publicly available information points to a small refugee threat from refugees from these nations that does not justify additional screening. Since 1975, zero Americans have been murdered on U.S. soil in a terror attack committed by refugees from any of the eleven countries.