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FILE PHOTO: A woman who is seeking asylum has her fingerprints taken by a U.S. Customs and Border patrol officer at a pedestrian port of entry from Mexico to the United States, in McAllen, Texas, U.S., May 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering tightening the vetting process for women and children seeking to enter the United States as refugees, a proposal that if adopted would bring security checks closer to those for adult men, three sources with knowledge of the plan told Reuters.
The plan could slow down refugee admissions even after the end of a 120-day ban on most refugees instituted by the Trump administration while it reviews vetting procedures. The vetting review is set to end on Oct. 24.
President Donald Trump came into office in January with a goal of sharply cutting refugee admissions, in line with the hard-line immigration policies that were a focal point of the Republican's 2016 election campaign. Trump quickly issued temporary bans on refugees and travellers from some Middle Eastern and African countries that were challenged in court.
A U.S. official told reporters last month that the administration is "considering a wide range of potential measures and enhancements" to vetting.
Refugees currently undergo differing levels of security checks when applying for admission to the United States, depending on the perceived risk they might present, including running their biographic and biometric data against law enforcement and intelligence databases.
Women and young children go through a lower level of security screening than men, said the three sources with knowledge of the proposal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The proposed changes would bring their security checks more in line with what is required for adult male refugees.
Successive Republican and Democratic administrations have focussed most of their attention on adult men who tend to join militant groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State in greater numbers than women.
A State Department official declined to comment on any refugee vetting processes while the review is underway. The government is taking steps to "further intensify" refugee screening "to uphold the safety of the American people," the official said.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan declined to comment, and said the administration is "finalising security enhancement recommendations as part of the 120-day review."
A White House spokeswoman said there were "no announcements at this time."
All refugees referred for resettlement in the United States are run through a database with watch-list information, called the Consular Lookout and Support System, or CLASS. Refugees can be singled out for a higher level of review based on their age, nationality, or gender. Syrian refugees, for instance, undergo extra checks.
Of the nearly 85,000 refugees admitted to the United States in the 2016 fiscal year, about 72 percent were women or children, according to the State Department. Total processing time for refugees to enter the United States now averages about 18 to 24 months, according to the State Department.
Trump's order to halt refugee admissions so his administration could determine whether additional checks are necessary was suspended for months by federal judges. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually allowed it to go in effect for all refugees except those with close ties to the United States.
Trump also lowered the maximum number of refugees to be allowed into the United States in 2017 to 50,000 from the 110,000 originally set by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat. The 2018 level has been set at 45,000, the lowest number in decades.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Rosenberg, editing by Sue Horton and Grant McCool)