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Trump Signs Executive Action To Impose 'New Vetting Measures' For Refugees


President Trump has followed through on a campaign pledge to cut the flow of Syrians entering the United States. He signed an executive action that he says will impose new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States.

NPR's Deborah Amos has been covering this refugee issue for us and joins us now. Deb, we have seen the president sign this executive action. We have not read the document. What are we hearing might be in it?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Exactly. We really don't have the text. But from what we know from a Fox interview last night, an interview with a Christian broadcaster today and a leaked document earlier in the week, it's been widely reported that he will halt refugee admissions for 120 days, cut the number of refugees admitted this year by 50 percent and indefinitely stop the admission of Syrian refugees. It - this is really a shake-up of how the United States welcomes the world's most vulnerable people.

There's already been some immediate consequences. Today, the dean and the faculty at John (ph) Hopkins Bloomberg International School sent a letter to the president asking him, urging him to reconsider. They're offering scholarships to Syrian medical professionals to help them rebuild Syria, and they say they're not going to be able to get in.

SHAPIRO: Now, the U.S. has taken in something like 70,000 refugees a year globally but only about 10,000 Syrian refugees over the last five years. President Trump says those Syrians pose a security risk, but they go through a very long vetting process. Remind us what sort of security checks are included at this point.

AMOS: They do. We have to separate what we see of the refugees in Europe - there's hardly a process there at all, but it's very tough to get into the U.S. You don't even choose to do it. You get chosen. They are screened. It's about 20 steps. It includes intensive interviews, biometric checks, DNA, fingerprints, iris scans.

You know, they are vetted by U.S. security agencies, counterterrorism specialists. You get additional checks with the security agencies of American allies. All of that continues until the day they land. And even after, Syrians have more rigorous checks than any other refugees.

SHAPIRO: Beyond Syrian refugee resettlement, President Trump talked a lot during his campaign about a ban on Muslim immigration. He later referred to extreme vetting. You've spoken with some of the people who influenced his thinking on this. What is their case?

AMOS: You know, the opponents say, we don't know who they are. You've heard the president say that, too. What they mean is we don't know their ideology, and their suspicion falls heavily on Muslim refugees. So groups that oppose admitting Muslims are convinced without any evidence that many Muslims want to impose Islamic law. They want to undermine the U.S. Constitution. So these groups want some kind of ideological test of religious beliefs. Now, we don't know if the president has that specifically in this administration action - administrative action, so we have to look.

SHAPIRO: There has been some talk about a provision that would allow Christians from some of these countries to come into the U.S. What could that involve?

AMOS: Well, the president and his supporters have long charged that Muslim refugees have been favored over Christians. Most people are fleeing wars in Muslim-majority countries. And the second problem is that many of the Syrian and Iraqi Christians are in Lebanon and in Erbil. This is in northern Iraq. And because of security problems, the State Department doesn't do very many interviews in those places, so we would have to change where the interviews are taking place.

But he did say that he is going to favor religious minorities, and by that, he does mean Christians. He said it in the campaign. His supporters want him to do it. And that is very likely to be part of this new policy about...

SHAPIRO: All right.

AMOS: ...Bringing in refugees.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Deb Amos, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.