Refugee tent city

Sadik Gulec | Shutterstock

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While everyone is focused on the debate over Syrian refugees, the Obama administration has admitted more refugees from Somalia than even from Syria. Even though over two decades have elapsed since the collapse of the Somali government, we are taking in refugees from this extremely dangerous country at the fastest pace ever.

As of December 13, we’ve admitted a total of 21,854 total refugees for FY 2017, according to the State Department’s refugee database. That is a pace we have not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. More disturbingly, we’ve admitted 2,836 refugees from Syria and 3,014 from Somalia, almost all of them Muslim. Once again, Minnesota (364) and Ohio (334) are being saddled with more refugees from Somalia despite the terror recruiting problems in Minneapolis and Columbus.

Obama is also continuing his social transformation by seeding small-to-mid-sized cities with relatively large sums of Somali and Syrian refugees. A quick search of the database shows that places like Bowling Green, Ky., Owensboro, Ky., Glendale, Ariz., and Erie, Penn have all been seeded with more Middle Eastern refugees than the entire state of New Jersey.

This is a clear violation of the refugee law. The statute directs the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to “insure that a refugee is not initially placed or resettled in an area highly impacted by the presence of refugees or comparable populations.” When making this determination the director of ORR is supposed to take into account, among other things, “the proportion of refugees and comparable entrants in the population in the area.” [8 U.S.C. 1522]

Think about this: we’ve brought in 3,000 Somalis in just two and a half months. That is outpacing our typical 8,000-10,000 that we’ve unprecedentedly brought in almost every year for over two decades. Thousands more have come from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Clearly, Obama is trying to front-load refugee resettlement and set it in motion for the remainder of the fiscal year, even after he leaves office.

But he will only succeed if Trump and his key administration officials allow that to happen.

While Obama has established a plan to bring in 110,000 refugees this year, Trump can block the roughly 80,000 that are slated to come in after he takes office.

To begin with, §212(f) of Immigration and Nationality Act gives the president unilateral authority at will to shut down any form of immigration under any circumstance. In particular, §207 delegated to the president full authority to set the number of refugees to be admitted in a given year. Thus, Trump can easily shut down refugee resettlement through executive action on day one of his administration.

Turning out the lights on this operation can and must happen on January 20.

Time for Tillerson to step up to the plate

Even if Trump doesn’t want to take such a “drastic” step of unilaterally suspending refugee resettlement with the stroke of a pen, he could indirectly shut off the pipeline of refugees. This is where the State Department comes into play and why it’s so important to get an immediate sense of where Rex “Souter” Tillerson stands on this issue.

Three departments are involved in the refugee process, but the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is the gatekeeper of selecting individuals from the global pool of refugees to be brought to America. They accept these pools of refugees by deferring to the judgement of the UN’s Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If Rex Tillerson shares the sentiments Trump expressed on the campaign trail, he can simply ignore the “Framework for Cooperation” with UNHCR and close the pipeline of new refugees.

Furthermore, as it relates to Syrian refugees, Tillerson could easily shut down the “surge operation” that the State Department set up in Amman, Jordan. By deploying extra resources to Jordan and condensing the “vetting” period to just three months, Obama’s State Department has set up a seamless pipeline in which they can churn out several thousand applications per month and get them approved by DHS. Turning out the lights on this operation can and must happen on January 20.

While John Kelly at DHS and Tom Price at HHS (which oversees the actual resettlement process) will also wield considerable influence over the refugee issue, Trump’s presumptive secretary of state is the gatekeeper. We should not have to wait until confirmation hearings to know where he stands on refugees. And for all the talk about his “oil ties” to the Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf countries, maybe he can start calling in favors to demand that the wealthy countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE take in their fair share of refugees.  

Stopping out-of-control refugee resettlement foisted upon us by the UN was an iron-clad promise of Trump’s campaign and it is much easier to implement than repealing Obamacare. The time to spend that political capital is one day one.    



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