News & Resources

Press Release: Reuters Exclusive Undercuts Claims by Government in Refugee Ban Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                     

September 12, 2018


Betsy Fisher, IRAP, 646-459-3081,

Adela de la Torre, NILC, 202-384-1275,

Bill Swersey, HIAS, 202-412-1678,

Mindy Berkowitz, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, 408-357-7455,


SEATTLE, WA – Today, Reuters published an exclusive report on how the Trump Administration reverse-engineered the suspension of refugee admissions issued in October 2017, which resulted in halting the processing of refugees from 11 countries, 9 of which are Muslim-majority, despite the Administration’s own determination that these suspensions were not necessary. The suspension has resulted in grinding to a trickle refugee admissions from those countries and endangering thousands of people fleeing violence who were in the pipeline to travel to the United States.

The article undercuts the government’s claims in the lawsuit, JFS v. Trump, currently pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, which challenged the October suspension. In opposing the plaintiffs’ papers in that case, the government asserted that the restrictions had been a product of an extensive internal review conducted pursuant to last year’s second Executive Order banning nationals from a number of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United states. However, the report reveals that the internal review had actually resulted in a recommendation not to suspend refugee processing:

Conducted in the summer and fall of 2017, the review concluded that refugees from all countries could safely be allowed to enter with some tightening of vetting, according to seven current or former U.S. officials who helped formulate or were briefed on the findings.

White House staff, including Miller and Kelly, were not happy with that conclusion, said one current and two former officials. In particular, the White House wanted to continue barring refugees from Somalia . . . for reasons that were unclear, the two former officials and a second current official said. That posed a problem: The working group had found no evidence that Somali refugees presented a unique threat.

Homeland Security officials proposed that when admissions were resumed, the government would conduct a further 90-day review of refugees from 11 countries, including Somalia. During that time, refugees from the countries would remain effectively blocked.

Some members of the working group felt the additional review – which directly affected thousands of refugees – was unnecessary, designed solely to satisfy White House officials.

In December 2017, in response to Plaintiffs’ motion, the court preliminarily enjoined the government from enforcing the October refugee ban. Today’s report reveals, however, that despite the court order, the Administration has continued to slow roll refugee processing from the 11 countries through extensive security checks that appear not to be related to any security needs. In fact, according to a report by the International Crisis Group also released today, the FBI’s security check delays have resulted in a backlog of 95,000 cases of refugees from the 11 countries while they clear only one case per day. These added security checks affect nationals of countries that comprised 40% of all refugees coming to the United States and the majority of Muslim refugees admitted in recent years.

Today’s Reuters report confirms Plaintiffs’ allegations in the lawsuit that the government’s policies on refugees are informed by hostility towards Muslims rather than objective assessments of national security. Time and time again, the Administration has targeted Muslim-majority countries in particular — and in this case, against the advice of their own national security officials. This report also follows on the heel of last week’s NBC report revealing that the Trump administration has exaggerated potential security threats posed by refugees and dismissed intelligence assessments from career officials.

Meanwhile, the individual plaintiffs in JFS, including an Iraqi man hiding in Egypt who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military, and a Somali refugee trying to be reunited with his wife and son, are no closer to finding relief, despite the December court order. The government is now considering even further reductions on the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States.

Jewish Family Service v. Trump was brought on behalf of Jewish Family Service of Seattle, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, and nine individual plaintiffs by attorneys at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); the National Immigration Law Center (NILC); Perkins Coie LLP; HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees; and other individual attorneys.

To view the press release, click here.