DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Donald Trump as a candidate pledged to sharply limit the number of refugees the United States takes in. He talked about ending resettlement from Syria, maybe even expelling some Syrians already here. It's a security issue, Trump told us, saying immigration from terror-prone regions has to stop if there's not more vetting. So what will President Trump actually do? Let's talk about that with NPR's Deborah Amos. She's been talking to people who help bring refugees to this country and also speaking to some refugees themselves. Deb, good morning.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So this was certainly a flash point in the campaign. And, I guess, could we start by just reminding us what the United States has been doing to this point?
AMOS: So over the last year, some 13,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled - mostly women and children - across 38 states. Now, resettlement continues, but there are 5 million Syrian refugees out there, so the U.S. numbers are really small compared to Europe. They are hosting about a million - and U.S. allies in the Middle East even more. The campaign debate was about the numbers and security. Clinton wanted more. Trump said he would shut down the program. He called Syrian refugees a Trojan horse for Islamist militants. And he repeatedly said we don't know who these people are. So if he sticks to his campaign pledge, he risks alienating Middle East allies - they're now overwhelmed with this refugee burden - and part of his base. There are a lot of evangelical Christians who are pro-refugee, and those churches play a role in resettling Syrian refugees.
GREENE: And you've been speaking to some evangelical groups who've helped bring refugees in. You've been speaking to some refugee families themselves. I mean, have - have they been reacting yet to this - this campaign victory by Trump?
AMOS: Oh, deep anxiety - certainly among refugees. They've been asking, is he going to kick me out? Here's one refugee. His name is Mohammed. He's been here for two years. He's here with his 17-year-old daughter. She's in high school. He actually has a high-tech job in New York already. No last names because they've got family back in Syria. He's applied for his wife and his young daughter to join him. He's really worried that this election means that he cannot reunite with his family. You get a sense of his emotion.
MOHAMMED: It's, like, very shocking, very disappointing, very terrifying. One of his promises for his supporters is that he is going to send the Syrians who already arrived back to their country, which is something amazing. I mean, you brought them here because they are refugees. They don't have home anymore. And you are threatening them to send them back. Send them back where? To hell?
AMOS: Let me point out that in Trump's first 100-day document, he doesn't mention Syrians in particular. He doesn't even talk about banning Muslims, as he did on the campaign trail. Rather, what he talks about is no refugees from terror-prone countries, so we have to see what that means.
GREENE: We should just say there that, listening to that voice, Mohammed, he - referring to Trump, saying he wants to send those Syrians back. He's talking about himself, potentially.
AMOS: He is talking about himself, and he's talking about others. They heard that on the campaign trail. You hear from refugee advocates they're much more worried about overall numbers. President Obama sets the number of refugees to come to the U.S. He said 110,000 in 2017, and that's from all over the world.
GREENE: OK, not just Syria. That's from everywhere.
AMOS: Yes. President Trump could actually slash that number. He has the prerogative to say what countries refugees come from, who can come into the country. Now, worldwide, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia make up almost half of all refugees, so those are certainly countries that come under that definition of terror-prone.
GREENE: And the terror-prone could actually be an argument that Trump could use to expel people already here.
AMOS: Well, I spoke to Stephen Yale-Loehr. He teaches immigration law at Cornell. And he says that if President Trump believes Syrian refugees do pose a terrorist threat, he'd actually have to prove it. He would have to show evidence one by one.
STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: He could not claim that all Syrian refugees in the United States are terrorist threats and round them up and deport them without some kind of constitutional due process hearing.
AMOS: Now, Yale-Loehr has been fielding calls for the past two days from refugees and from advocates.
YALE-LOEHR: People are nervous, and I'm trying to calm them down, to say don't panic. We cannot round people up and then send them out immediately without some kind of hearing.
GREENE: Well let's just take Trump's argument here. And it's an argument made not just by him, but by many U.S. governors as well - that the vetting process just is not strong enough and that people could slip through who are very dangerous. I mean, what is the process right now?
AMOS: Let's talk about Syrians in particular because, in 2011, the Obama administration put in place this enhanced vetting for Syrians - 21 steps, three different security agencies. They're vetted by counterterrorism specialists. And that vetting continues until a refugee lands at an American airport. So advocates who work with refugees, they challenge the rhetoric that we don't know who they are. The bigger problem is most Americans don't know anything about the refugee program. It's done very quietly.
It's been in place since the Second World War. It usually has bipartisan support. It's backed by faith-based groups, including those evangelicals. Let's hear from Chris George. He heads an official resettlement program in Connecticut. And he says that is the problem, in part, because this refugee resettlement program gets no public attention, and that is by design.
CHRIS GEORGE: The State Department is partly to blame for that. They have encouraged refugee resettlement programs to operate at a low profile. They have not done enough public education. If people throw up their arms, politicians included, and say, we don't know anything about this refugee program, we don't know who these refugees are, well, the information is out there. It's out of ignorance that people say those things.
GREENE: The State Department, have they kept this low-profile because they were worried about the reaction that we've seen from Donald Trump and his supporters?
AMOS: It has been a long-term policy to keep it quiet.
GREENE: So maybe Donald Trump becoming president is the moment where things become more out in the open and some refugee advocates take this as an opportunity to make their case more?
AMOS: That's exactly what Chris George is saying. He wants to invite the next president to come to his Connecticut office to sit down and talk with refugees. He says Donald Trump should come and meet them face to face. And he argues that he will see that this has been a successful program and that the United States cannot afford to slash these numbers.
GREENE: OK, that's NPR's Deborah Amos in New York. Deb, thank you very much.
AMOS: Thank you.
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