Trump orders stringent refugee restrictions

Ken Thomas
Associated Press

Washington — Setting a hard-line tone on national security, President Donald Trump on Friday suspended the nation’s refugee program for four months, aiming to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States.

Trump traveled to the Pentagon, where he joined Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for the signing of an executive action to bring sweeping changes to the nation’s refugee policies and put in motion his plans to build up the nation’s military.

“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” he said. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

During his election campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump pledged to put in place “extreme vetting” procedures to screen people coming to the U.S. from countries with terrorism ties. The order imposes a 120-day suspension of the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and a 90-day ban on all entry to the United States from countries with terrorism concerns.

The State Department said the three-month ban in the directive applied to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — all Muslim majority nations.

The order also halts entry to the U.S. by Syrian refugees until the president determines that changes to the refugee assistance program ensure that admitting them won’t compromise national security.

The order makes no mention of a plan to provide safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area. A draft of the order had directed the Pentagon and the State Department to produce a plan for safe zones in the war-torn Mideast nation.

During the past budget year, the U.S. accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. President Barack Obama had set the refugee limit for this budget year at 110,000.

Trump, according to the executive order, plans to cut that to 50,000. The order says that while the program is suspended, the U.S. may admit people on a case-by-case basis when “in the national interest” and the government will continue to process refugee requests from people claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country.” That suggests it would allow the admission of Christians from Muslim-majority countries.

“We are going to help them,” Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “They’ve been horribly treated.”

Split reaction

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said it would file a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.

“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena F. Masri. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who has supported a pause on accepting Syrian refugees in Michigan so security clearances are tightened, welcomed Trump’s executive order. Oakland County by far resettled the most number of Syrian refugees in Michigan in 2016, nearly 500 through Sept. 9, according to U.S. State Department statistics.

“This wholesale immigration into this country of people who are not properly vetted was ridiculous,” Patterson said this week in anticipation of the executive order. “We know there are terror groups from these countries, and our own intelligence community has said there’s no way to properly vet them.”

“Look at what’s happening in places like Germany and France,” which have seen an influx of Middle Eastern refugees, he added. “There have been all kinds of problems. We don’t want those problems here.”

Many representatives of Metro Detroit’s Middle East community were disappointed by the order. Michigan resettled the second most number of Syrian refugees in 2016, nearly 1,404 through Sept. 9, according to the State Department.

“There’s a need for humanitarian assistance with people seeking asylum in the United States, because they come from these countries that are war-torn,” said Rula Aoun, director of the Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn. “It’s sad that rather than extending a helping hand for these individuals, that we would bar them from entering the United States.

Abdullah Haydar, a Syrian-American activist from Canton Township, said he worries about the people who will be shunned from America.

“It’s as bad as World War II during the Holocaust, when boatloads of people were being turned away,” Haydar said. “Instead of trying to help oppressed people, we are saying ‘let’s keep them out.’”

Jalil Nahshal, secretary of the Yemeni American Public Affairs Council in Dearborn, said he hopes Trump can be persuaded to change the policy.

“They’re already going through security clearances and background checks that last for months,” Nahshal said about the refugees.

But the president’s action prompted no objection from Ziad Fadel, a Dearborn Heights resident who was born in Syria and came to the United States in 1956 at age 6.

“I think the people of the United States deserve to be protected, and people coming from these countries that have terrorism are a danger,” Fadel said. “The Syrian refugees should be in Syria. ... They need to stay in Syria, and the United States can provide financial help.”

Dick Manassari a spokesman for the self-defined refugee watchdog group Secure Michigan, said he wanted to thank Trump for fulfilling a campaign promise.

“Trump won Michigan primarily because of Macomb County, which is the poster child for refugee resettlement. It’s one of 20 places that were identified by the U.S. as an ideal place to put immigrants,” Manassari said.

“I think people are being disingenuous when they say the only way to help people is to bring them into the United States. We can create safe zones in the region in nearby countries. Saudi Arabia is right there, and they have the same culture and ideology, but they’ve taken in zero Syrian refugees.”

Politicians weigh in

Trump’s move was strongly criticized by some Democrats.

In a joint statement, Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn slammed the directive as a “thinly veiled ban on entry based on religion, betraying American’s cardinal commitment to freedom of belief.”

“We take a back seat to no one in our nation’s efforts to combat the ongoing threat of terrorism ... but giving in to our worst fears — as this order does — will do nothing to make America safer or weaken our adversaries,” the lawmakers said.

Republican Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham, on the other hand, said he supports barring refugees from “terror-prone” countries.

“Our first and foremost priority must be to ensure the safety of American families — our children and loved ones,” Trott said in a statement.

Detroit News Staff Writers George Hunter and Melissa Nann-Burke contributed.