DHS Announces Refugee Screening Enhancements

Alexander J. Segal's picture


On January 31, 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has devised additional security enhancements for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) [PDF version]. These security enhancements are in response to the 90-day review ordered by President Donald Trump in his October 24, 2017 Executive Order 13815 [see article], which built off directives in his March 6, 2017 Executive Order 13780 [see article]. In this post, we will briefly examine the DHS news release and explain what it means going forward. To learn about the Executive Order 13780, please see our full article on the subject [see article].

New Policies

Executive Order 13815 directed the DHS, and other relevant agencies, to determine what security measures were necessary “to address the security risks posed by refugee admissions.” Secretary Nielsen announced that, in the allocated 90-day period, the DHS “conducted a review to determine what additional safeguards, if any, are necessary to ensure that the admission of nationals from 11 high-risk countries does not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.” As we noted in previous articles, the 11 high-risk countries are those for which a Security Advisory Opinion was required for certain refugees.

Although the DHS initially slowed refugee processing for the 11 Security Advisory Opinion Countries, this policy was enjoined on December 23, 2017, by order of the United States Court of Appeals for the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington [see blog].

However, Secretary Nielsen announced several other enhancements and security recommendations that DHS has produced and is implementing as a result of its 90-day review:

Conducting additional screening for certain nationals of high-risk countries.
Administering the USRAP in a more risk-based manner when considering the overall refugee admissions ceiling, regional allocations, and the groups of applicants considered for resettlement.
Conducting a periodic review and updating of the refugee high-risk country list and selection criteria.

Secretary Nielsen's statement concluded by stating that it “will co-administer the USRAP with the Department of State in a manner consistent with these determinations and its statutory authorities as well as applicable court orders.” This means that the DHS will continue to comply with the injunction against parts of its initial policy regarding Security Advisory Opinion countries.


President Trump's Executive Order 13815 directed a continued assessment of the USRAP. The DHS news release indicates that, in response to that order, it is beginning to implement procedures to enhance refugee screening and security. We will continue to update the website and our main article on Executive Order 13815 and its implementing memorandum [see article] with further information on these issues and associated litigation as it becomes available.

DHS Announces Refugee Screening Enhancements