ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
For months now, the Trump administration has suspended processing of most refugee applications while it came up with new security measures. Well, today President Trump issued an executive order announcing that the refugee program will resume with those security measures in place. He also ordered an additional 90-day review of security procedures for refugees from 11 countries mostly in the Middle East and Africa. Refugee advocates worry that this means fewer refugees will be allowed into the United States.
And joining me to talk about this is NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, the administration outlines some across-the-board changes to security measures that will affect all refugees seeking to come to the U.S. What are those?
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, starting tomorrow, all refugees will face a more thorough background check. To become a refugee now, you already have to turn over a lot of information - all of your phone numbers, email addresses and physical addresses. Before, you had to hand over that information going back five years. Now you're going to have to go back 10 years. And it is not just your information. The government officials want to know about everyone in your family tree. Before that was just relatives in the U.S. Now it's going to be family members all over the world. The administration says these new procedures are needed to keep the country safe.
SIEGEL: Trump's executive order names 11 countries that will be subject to a further 90-day review of security procedures. What more do you know about that review?
ROSE: Well, the administration says the additional in-depth review is needed for refugees from 11 countries, the same 11 countries where refugees are already subjected to heightened scrutiny, including Syria, Somalia, several others in the Middle East and Africa and North Korea. The administration says these refugees have been identified as posing a higher security risk to the U.S., which is what's prompted this additional 90-day review, and that admissions of refugees from these countries could resume but only on a case-by-case basis over the next three months. On a conference call with reporters, officials were repeatedly asked exactly what prompted the additional concern about these 11 countries, but they did not go into any specifics.
SIEGEL: And what's the reaction been from groups that help settle refugees in the U.S.?
ROSE: I would characterize it as mixed. One resettlement agency says they welcome the resumption of admissions, but they're also concerned about, quote, "arbitrary obstacles," unquote, placed in the way of these highly vulnerable people. Resettlement agencies say the U.S. has a moral obligation to help people who are fleeing war, ethnic cleansing and famine and that this is just the latest signal from the Trump administration that it wants to shrink the refugee program.
Last month, the administration put a cap on refugee admissions for the year at 45,000, which is historically very low, less than half of what the Obama administration allowed in. So resettlement agencies are concerned that many people will have to reapply for security clearance under these new guidelines, a process that really could take years. And a staffer at one agency told me this could amount to a backdoor Muslim ban like the one President Trump advocated during the campaign.
SIEGEL: Yeah, well, the administration of course has been sued over its travel restrictions, critics saying that they discriminate based on religion. Where does that legal fight now stand?
ROSE: It's complicated. These legal battles have been waging for months over Trump's ban on travelers from several majority Muslim countries. They were fought all the way to the Supreme Court, but then the high court did not wind up hearing arguments because the case was moot when the original travel ban expired. Basically we're back in federal court, and we'll be there for a while.
SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks, Joel.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.