U.S.

Trump Administration Sends State Department Official Who Defended Refugees ‘to Siberia,’ Raising New Fears for Immigrants in America

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U.S. President Donald Trump gestures after speaking at an event. Some insiders believe the reassignment of the State Department's head of refugee admissions is part of the administration’s efforts to stop refugees from entering the country. Getty Images

Updated | A government official who was a staunch supporter of refugees has been sidelined in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s State Department, sources have revealed to Reuters.

Lawrence Bartlett, head of refugee admissions for the State Department’s Population, Refugees and Migration bureau, has extensive experience working with refugee admissions. Nevertheless, he is now taking over a temporary advisory assignment handling Freedom of Information Act requests, a State Department representative said.

One official told Reuters that an assignment handling FOIA requests is equivalent to being exiled to “Siberia” in the State Department. Some insiders believe that Bartlett’s reassignment is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to stop refugees from entering the U.S.

903215052 U.S. President Donald Trump gestures after speaking at an event. Some insiders believe the reassignment of the State Department's head of refugee admissions is part of the administration’s efforts to stop refugees from entering the country. Getty Images

Since taking office exactly one year ago, President Donald Trump has reduced the number of refugees by around 70 percent. The total number of refugees admitted from January to December 2017 was 28,875. Former President Barack Obama had admitted 93,668 refugees during the same period of the previous year.

Trump halted refugee admittance completely for 120 days last year. In late October, the administration once again began admitting refugees, but only once a more stringent vetting process was put in place. Trump has said that resettling refugees is a national security threat to the U.S.

Experts say Bartlett's removal will not affect the number of refugees coming into the U.S., but it could play a role in how the bureau operates.

"Presumably [Bartlett] was viewed as obstructing the president's agenda, but whoever is in charge of administering the refugee program, the numbers will be set by the White House, as they are in any administration," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told Newsweek. "The only change likely with a different person in place might be better communication and coordination with local communities impacted by refugee resettlement."  

Bartlett’s new position in the FOIA office is not permanent, but it's unclear whether he will eventually be able to return to his previous position. Advocates for refugees are reportedly concerned that Bartlett could be replaced with someone who does not have equivalent experience with refugees. 

This article has been updated to include a statement from Mark Krikorian.