No action from Donald Trump to deport Syrian refugees, despite campaign promise
President Donald Trump as a White House candidate said he was putting Syrian refugees on notice that, "if I win, they're going back." Trump has not kept this promise.
PolitiFact did not find any evidence that Trump is actively pursuing this pledge. Neither the White House nor Department of Homeland Security responded to queries on whether Trump planned to advance this campaign promise.
Attempts to fulfill the promise likely would have faced legal and logistical challenges. People admitted under a refugee status — from Syria or elsewhere — are not in the country illegally upon arrival. Refugees must also apply for a green card one year after coming to the United States. A green card gives them lawful permanent residence.
If a refugee commits a crime then he or she might be placed in removal proceedings, if the crime warrants it. But that's different from mass deportations of Syrian refugees.
There haven't been efforts to round-up Syrian refugees in order to deport them, said Betsy Fisher, policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, which represents refugees in immigration proceedings.
"People in legal status cannot be mass deported," Fisher said.
There are also legal protections against sending people back to places where they fear persecution, Fisher said, adding that by virtue of being admitted into the United States as refugees, the United States has determined they have a well-founded fear.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, it's estimated that about half a million people have been killed, more than 5.6 million people have sought refuge in other countries and around 6.6 million are internally displaced.
"While most Syrian refugees intend to return home, even in the best-case scenario, it will take several years for necessary conditions to be in place that would allow the majority to return in safety and dignity," said a February 2018 report from the United Nations' refugee agency.
The UN said it would eventually consider supporting government-organized repatriations of Syrians if certain protection thresholds were met. Among those requirements: the conclusion of a formal agreement with the Syrian government, host countries, and other actors as required, and ensuring that every individual's decision to return is "informed and genuinely voluntary, without any coercion."
Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project said she was unaware of a repatriation agreement between the United States and Syria.
Trump promised to remove Syrian refugees from the United States. That promise faces a major challenge: Syrian refugees are not in the country illegally. We've seen no action from the Trump administration to fulfill this promise. We rate it Promise Broken.
Phone interview, Betsy Fisher, policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center, Nov. 13, 2018
Reuters, Exclusive: Despite tensions, Russia seeks U.S. help to rebuild Syria, Aug. 3, 2018
No efforts yet from Trump administration for mass deportation of Syrian refugees
Through executive orders, President Donald Trump has attempted to reduce the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States and to halt the entry of Syrian nationals.
But so far, he has not followed up on his promise to deport all Syrian refugees already in the country. Trump in September 2015 said that if he won the presidency, Syrian refugees would be "going back."
More than 20,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States since Oct. 1, 2011 (the beginning of fiscal year 2012), according to the latest data from the State Department's Refugee Processing Center. The Syrian civil war began in 2011.
To date, we have not seen any efforts from the Trump administration for a deportation of Syrian refugees. A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told us there are no directives to remove all Syrian refugees. "However, individuals may be removed based on certain circumstances depending on their immigration status," David Lapan, DHS spokesman said.
Experts who follow issues related to Syrian refugees also told us they had not seen any concerted efforts related to this campaign promise.
Refugees admitted into the United States are legally present in the United States. They are required by law to apply for permanent resident status after living one year in the country. An immigration expert previously told us that the removal of Syrian refugees would have to be done on a case-by-case basis. Grounds for deportation include criminal misconduct or immigration violations.
If a refugee becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen based on materially fraudulent information, they could be stripped of citizenship and put in removal proceedings, said Denise Bell, senior campaigner for refugee and migrant rights for Amnesty International USA.
We asked the White House press office if the president was still planning to follow through on this pledge. We did not get a response.
Pending action from the Trump administration to remove all Syrian refugees, we rate this promise Stalled.
Syrian refugees arrival data, State Department's Refugee Processing Center, accessed June 14, 2017
Email interview, David Lapan, spokesman for Department of Homeland Security, June 14, 2017
Email statement, Denise Bell, Amnesty International USA, June 13, 2017
Trump’s abilities to remove existing refugees are limited
Donald Trump campaigned for president on a firm stance against taking in more Syrian refugees, expressing distrust in the vetting process and concern that among those admitted into the United States, there may be terrorists.
Taking it a step further, he said that if he made it to the White House, he would remove existing Syrian refugees from the country.
"I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria, as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they're going back," Trump said Sept. 30, 2015. They're going back. I'm telling you. They're going back."
WHY HE'S PROMISING IT
Despite a rigorous vetting process already in place for refugees — which can take up to two years — Trump claimed "we have no idea" who is coming in.
"There's no identification, there's no anything," Trump said during a campaign rally in New Hampshire in September 2015.
Refugees could be ISIS terrorists, Trump said at that rally.
"Because you know, military tactics are very interesting. This could be one of the great tactical ploys of all time, 200,000-man army, maybe, or if you said 50,000 or 80,000 or 100,000, we got problems. And that could be possible. I don't know that it is, but it could be possible," Trump said. "So they're going back. They're going back … And I know a lot of people are saying, 'well, that's not nice.' We can't afford to be nice. We're taking care of the whole world."
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
To fulfill his promise, Trump would need to remove about 15,000 people.
From 2012 to the end of fiscal year 2015 (Sept. 30, 2015), the United States admitted slightly more than 1,800 Syrian refugees. In fiscal year 2016, the United States accepted about 13,000 Syrian refugees.
In comparison to other countries such as Canada and Germany, the United States accepted few Syrian refugees during the first years of the Syrian civil war.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST
Trump has not said how much it would cost to remove Syrian refugees.
Refugees are not in the country illegally. However, the cost of arresting, detaining and removing an undocumented immigrant was pegged at $12,500 in 2011 by a U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement official.
WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY
Despite his promise, Trump's abilities to remove existing refugees are limited.
"There is no legal authority for the president to remove Syrian refugees or anyone else from the United States unless the particular individual falls within one of the specific deportation grounds prescribed by Congress," said Stephen Legomsky, professor emeritus at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis and a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
An individual may be deportable on grounds of criminal misconduct, national security, public health or various immigration violations, Legomsky said.
Refugees are legally present in the United States and are required by law to apply for permanent resident status after being in the country for one year. They can apply for U.S. citizenship after being a resident for five years.
Removal of Syrian refugees would have to be done on a case-by-case basis, if the individual is convicted of certain criminal activity, endangers public safety or national security, or commits other violations.