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US to Intensify Refugee Screening, as Partial Ban Expires


FILE - International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Dulles, Virginia, June 26, 2017.

A four-month review of the U.S. refugee program mandated by President Donald Trump ends Tuesday, but with new vetting measures on the horizon.

The State Department and Department of Homeland Security have yet to announce the details of the new screening measures.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the government will require additional biographical data and a more extensive review of refugees' social media accounts prior to their acceptance.

Reuters reports that the U.S. government will require refugees to provide information on their whereabouts going back a decade, twice as long as before.

Executive orders don't stop refugees

Thousands of refugees have entered the United States since January, despite Trump's two executive orders attempting to halt the program. Lawsuits stymied the initial roll-out of the temporary ban. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court determined arrivals could continue as long as the refugees could demonstrate "bona fide" close family ties to the country.

The high court on Tuesday also dismissed a lawsuit by the state of Hawaii against an earlier version of Trump's travel ban — the same one that limited refugee arrivals. The new refugee vetting procedures, and a separate presidential proclamation in September limiting travelers from eight countries, replace much of what the two earlier travel bans attempted.

Last week, a judge in Hawaii involved halted the administration's latest efforts to block travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear from the top officials in charge of the refugee programs within the State Department, DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement on Capitol Hill this Thursday.

In addition to the forthcoming vetting changes, the Trump administration last month announced it would drop the ceiling on refugee arrivals for the 2018 Fiscal Year to 45,000, the lowest limit ever set for the program.

During the last months of then-President Barack Obama's tenure in late 2016 and 2017, the U.S. refugee program — the most robust resettlement program in the world — was on track to receive 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, amid increasing demand for safe third-country relocation stemming from the Syrian civil war and Islamic State violence.

Trump insisted, first as a candidate then as president, the refugee vetting system was inadequate, despite academic studies showing few links to refugees and fatal attacks in the United States. The country's refugee program has overseen the arrivals of more than three million displaced people since 1975.

FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2016, photo, parents pick up their children at Naranca Elementary in El Cajon, California. The school is one of many in the San Diego suburb that has received an influx of Syrian refugees.
FILE - In this Oct. 5, 2016, photo, parents pick up their children at Naranca Elementary in El Cajon, California. The school is one of many in the San Diego suburb that has received an influx of Syrian refugees.

More Christians

Under the new administration, the refugee program has changed in other ways — including a shift back to accepting more Christians than Muslims, the two leading religions for arrivals since the early 2000s, according to a review of State Department data by VOA.

In 2016, a push to welcome more Syrian refugees bolstered the number of Muslims arrivals to the top spot for only the second time since that demographic data was made publicly available in 2002. Of the nearly 85,000 refugees who arrived between Oct. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016, 46 percent were Muslims, and 44 percent were Christian.

For the fiscal year that ended last month, however, Christians accounted for 47 percent of the approximately 54,000 refugees who entered the United States; whereas Muslim refugee arrivals dropped slightly to 43 percent during the same period, which included the transition of power from Obama to Trump in January.

Trump has prioritized changes to U.S. immigration and deportation systems since taking office. In addition to limiting refugees, his administration has issued three variations of the travel ban affecting specific countries, ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and ordered the hiring of 15,000 more immigration and border protection agents.

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