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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering a new policy that would allow state and local jurisdictions to deny entry to refugees who have been approved for resettlement in the United States, according to a draft of an executive order obtained by NBC News.
According to the draft, "the federal government will resettle refugees only where both the relevant state and local governments have consented to participate" in the program that allows refugees to resettle.
The plans are currently out for review by lawyers and counterparts at various government agencies, a senior DHS official said.
If a state or local jurisdiction does not agree to take in refugees, the federal government will have to find another location, according to the draft. An exception to this rule would be made in the case of resettling spouses or children of refugees already settled.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment.
Refugee rights organizations have long advocated for refugees to be relocated in areas where there are already refugees of the same country living to create a sense of community for those fleeing violence and persecution.
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Peter Boogaard, who worked on immigration issues in the Obama White House, said the executive order would hinder religious organizations, like the Catholic Church, from resettling immigrants in states around the country and "would also have a dramatic impact on the ability of future administrations to return refugee admissions to the normal historic levels."
The executive order is under consideration at a time when the Trump administration is debating how and whether to decrease refugee admissions beginning Oct. 1. In fiscal year 2016, the limit was 85,000 refugees; in fiscal year 2019, the number has been capped at 30,000. The administration is considering a further reduction, with some officials proposing zero admissions, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
If carried out, the draft executive order on refugees would undermine efforts to resettle them and violate the intent of a 1980 law that clearly grants the federal government authority over refugee policy, said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which works to resettle refugees under State Department agreements.
"Governors could elect not to take part in the refugee resettlement program. That would have a horrible impact on the program. That would literally be an abdication of federal authority," Hetfield said.
He called it a "malevolent and wasteful plan to concentrate refugees in blue states."
Ellen Beattie, senior director of U.S. programs for the International Rescue Committee, noted that refugees are not obligated to stay in the places where they are first offered resettlement.
"There’s plenty that could be broken by it, but little that could be fixed by it," Beattie said of the draft policy. She also said towns in need of young workers may lose out on workers if the governor of their state says no to refugees.
In 2015, 31 governors — all but one Republicans — vowed to block entry to refugees from Syria in their states. The move at the time did not carry any legal weight.