Drastic Reduction in MENA Refugees to US Shows Impact of Ban

Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan lead region as countries of origin for migration

The impact of President Donald Trump’s decision late last year to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States – especially those from Muslim-majority countries – can be seen in a report recently released by the Department of Homeland Security.

According to report, titled “Legal Immigration and Status Report Quarterly Data,” the number of refugees accepted by the U.S. in the first three quarters of fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018 (the fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30) shows a drop from nearly 33,600, to 16,178. During those same periods, the number of refugees from Iran and Iraq went from 19,304 to 32, and 1,306 to 120, respectively.

The most refugees from the Middle East came from Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan.

Joseph Sassoon, an associate professor affiliated with Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, told The Media Line that people from these countries “qualify for asylum for political reasons, while few from other [Gulf] countries, such as Qatar and Oman, do.”

Shortly after taking office, Trump issued a travel ban, referred to by some as a “Muslim ban,” which barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria and Yemen. There have been numerous versions of the ban, the most recent of which was upheld last year by the Supreme Court and halts visas for nationals from five Muslim-majority countries, as well as North Korea and Venezuela.

Hassan M. Ahmad, an immigration lawyer based outside Washington D.C., believes the so-called Muslim ban has had an impact on the number of refugees coming to the U.S. from the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA). The number went from 17,807 in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2017 to 852 in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018.

Ahmad told The Media Line that Syrian refugees appeared to have been particularly targeted, as only 49 were accepted in the first three quarters of 2018. Earlier versions of the Muslim ban would have rendered all Syrians ineligible for asylum by creating “safe zones” within their own country.

Ahmad believes that the reach of the Muslim ban extends far beyond Trump’s directive, explaining that he has seen more “mysterious” visa revocations as well as visas placed on administrative hold for people from Muslim-majority countries that are not included in the ban.

“I call this the ‘hidden Muslim ban.’ By moving it from the airports to the consulates, it’s out of sight and, hence, out of mind,” he said. “It is a shutdown of Muslim immigration, just as was promised on the campaign trail.”

Ahmad likened the plight of Muslims to that of Hispanics seeking entry to the U.S.

“Just as Latino immigrants are burdened with the unilaterally applied label of ‘gang member,’ Muslims have long suffered from unfair suspicions of terrorism,” he said.

The travel ban has had relatively little impact on the number of people becoming naturalized U.S. citizens and those obtaining permanent residency status (the so-called green card), which allows them to seek employment.

The largest numbers of people from the MENA region receiving green cards in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018 came from Pakistan (12,016), Afghanistan (11,131), Syria (10,931) and Iraq (10,576). The lowest numbers originated in Oman (86), Cyprus (93) and Qatar (147).

The largest numbers becoming naturalized U.S. citizens in the same period came from Iraq (8,047), Pakistan (7,395) and Iran (5,390). The fewest came from Oman (4), Qatar (5) and the UAE (16).

Lindsay Lowell, a former director of research at the congressionally-appointed Commission on Immigration Reform, told The Media Line that those figures reflect the “relative size of immigrant numbers and, I presume, the relative numbers who arrived over five years ago, as immigrants must reside in the U.S. and [study for and take a] test for citizenship, which takes time.”

In the same time period, most naturalized US citizens came from Mexico (95,107), followed by India (37,431) and China (28,547).

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)

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