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Expecting Trump action, US suspends refugee resettlement interviews

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted trips by staff to interview refugees abroad as it prepares for a likely shakeup of refugee policy by President Donald Trump, two sources with knowledge of the decision said on Thursday.

The decision effectively amounts to a pause in future refugee admissions, given that the interviews are a crucial step in an often years-long process.

The DHS leadership’s decision to halt the interview trips was communicated to those involved in the U.S. refugee admission process on Wednesday, one of the sources said.

It means that though Trump has not yet ordered a temporary halt to the refugee program, future admissions are likely to be delayed.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order that would include a temporary ban on all refugees, and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries.

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White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Thursday that Trump could sign several executive orders on Friday, but that the nature of those had not been decided yet.

Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project at the New York-based Urban Justice Center, said she was informed of the decision to halt the overseas interviews by several people in and outside of government.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which conducts the refugee interviews, did not respond to a request for comment.

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DHS officers regularly visit countries such as Jordan, Malaysia, El Salvador, Kenya and Ethiopia to interview refugees seeking to enter the United States. It is usually one of the last steps in the refugee resettlement process.

Heller said the decision to halt the overseas interviews would cause delays in refugee processing even if Trump decides to maintain the refugee program or re-start it after a temporary closure.

“In the past, when we’ve frozen the refugee program to re-examine security issues, it’s been really important to continue processing even if you can’t admit people, because processing times in this program can be two to three years,” Heller said.

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During the election campaign, Trump decried former President Barack Obama’s decision to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States over fears that those fleeing the country’s civil war would carry out attacks.

Obama approved allowing up to 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, compared with 85,000 the prior year.

Trump said during the election campaign that there was no proper system to vet refugees.

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In addition to the interviews, refugees hoping to be resettled in the United States undergo extensive security screening by multiple U.S. agencies as well as vetting by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kieran Murray and Leslie Adler)


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Elections 2016

Russian Twitter propaganda predicted 2016 US election polls

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When Robert Mueller completed his long-awaited investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, he left many questions unanswered.

But one conclusion was unequivocal: Russia unleashed an extensive campaign of fake news and disinformation on social media with the aim of distorting U.S. public opinion, sowing discord and swinging the election in favor of the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

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Elections 2016

Beto O’Rourke calls for a ‘war tax’ in release of health care plan for veterans

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The Democratic presidential candidate uses his eighth policy announcement to focus on an area that he prioritized in Congress.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Monday morning released a plan to improve the lives of veterans, returning to an area of priority during his time in the U.S. House for his latest 2020 policy rollout.

In keeping with measures he supported in Congress, the plan calls for a "responsible end" to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — reinvesting $1 out of every $2 saved in veterans programs — and the creation of a Veterans Health Care Trust Fund for each future war. The fund would be paid for by a "war tax" on households without service members or veterans.

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Elections 2016

Conservative Ben Shapiro tweeted something many found offensive — so now he’s calling his critics ‘garbage’

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Right wing "thought leader" Ben Shapiro appeared today to say not using the "N" word is nearly impossible as he defended conservative, pro-gun teen Kyle Kashuv, one of the Parkland survivors who just had his acceptance to Harvard rescinded over his racist remarks, which included repeated use of the "N" word.

To be clear, Shapiro denies that's what he meant.

Here is Shapiro on Twitter, in what many took as him appearing to call not using the "N" word – in Kashuv's case, repeatedly, over and over and over again, "an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet."

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