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White House Outlines Plans To Roll Back Refugee Resettlement Program


A modified version of the Trump administration's travel ban takes effect tonight, and we're going to look now at who will and won't be allowed in under the new rules. The administration put out that guidance this morning just days after the Supreme Court allowed parts of the ban to go forward. This time authorities hope there won't be the kind of chaos at airports that we saw when the White House first issued the order back in January. Refugee advocates worry about these new limits and have a lot of questions. To walk us through all of this, NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us from the State Department.

Hi, Michele.


SHAPIRO: So this takes effect tonight. What are U.S. embassies and consulates being told to do regarding people who want to come to the U.S. on visas for things like family visits or business trips?

KELEMEN: Well, they're telling travelers from the six mainly Muslim nations that are on this list that if they have valid visas, they should come to the U.S. and they'll go through the regular border entry screening. And if you have an appointment for a visa interview, the State Department says, keep them. Consular officials at embassies will go through these applications on a case-by-case basis. And if people can prove that they have a bona fide connection to the U.S., they're able to get a visa. That could mean a connection to a business or a school here or a family connection. But they have to be close relatives. Even grandparents or grandchildren don't count.

SHAPIRO: So that's travelers, tourists, business people. What about refugees for whom the stakes are much higher?

KELEMEN: Well, refugees go through a very lengthy vetting process. And, you know, as long as those who have made it through that two-year process and have - they have traveled scheduled by July 6, they're good to go. The problem is what happens next. The administration has lowered the number of refugees that it's accepting this fiscal year to 50,000. And just as a comparison, Obama wanted to resettle 110,000 refugees here. And as of today, 49,009 refugees have arrived in the U.S. this fiscal year from all over the world - from Syria, of course, but also Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan. It's really a global humanitarian program.

SHAPIRO: So there we're talking about far beyond the six majority Muslim countries in the ban. If were already at that 50,000 limit that the Trump administration has set, what happens after that?

KELEMEN: It's a question many of us are asking over here today. And there's a lot of confusion. The State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert says they're still working through some of these details. And they have a bit more time before they reach that 50,000 mark, maybe a week or a couple of weeks before they're supposed to put the program on hold. Other officials, though, say it's possible to go beyond the cap, to bring in refugees who do have a bona fide - a bona fide connection here.

We're told that it's not enough to just have a connection to a refugee resettlement agency but, again, a close family connection. And, Ari, at this point, it's not at all clear, you know, how many people we're talking about, how far beyond that 50,000 cap they'll go.

SHAPIRO: Well, as you said, it takes about two years for a refugee coming to the U.S. to be vetted. Do we have any idea how many people are in the queue and might be affected by this?

KELEMEN: I'm told thousands could be affected by this. You know, one refugee resettlement agency told me today that they usually book people about three weeks ahead of time. And it's not just easy to - you don't just rebook for a later date because it's not just airline tickets. Refugees have to go through medical screenings. And those clearances don't last forever. If they rebook for later, they might have to redo all of that medical screening and security checks.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen speaking with us from the State Department.

Thanks a lot.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.