ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has followed through on a campaign pledge to stop the flow of Syrian refugees to the U.S. He signed an executive order that he says will impose new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States. NPR's Deborah Amos covers this issue for us and joins us now with more. Hi, Deb.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: So what is in this executive order that President Trump signed today?
AMOS: Ari, this really shakes up how the United States welcomes the world's most vulnerable people. We now have the text. The entire refugee program is suspended for 120 days. Syrian refugees are declared detriment to the interest of the United States, they will be barred. When the programs resume, the numbers go down by 50 percent. The U.S. has taken in 30,000, so we're only talking about another 20,000, 50,000 in all. For the first time, the U.S. will prioritize Christian refugees, claims made by individuals on the basis of religious persecution. And the U.S. will collect data on those who get radicalized here, engaged in gender violence, honor killings. No one's allowed in the country that bears hostile attitudes.
Now, this is already having consequences. I spoke to a woman in Spokane today who's with a Lutheran refugee agency. She runs a program for unaccompanied minors. An Afghan 17-year-old was supposed to come in on Monday. They have a foster home for him. Whether he can get off that plane or whether he will be turned around after one year of work, they really don't know.
SHAPIRO: Now, Donald Trump during the campaign used the phrase extreme vetting a lot. This executive order put some meat on those bones. There was a pretty robust vetting process before this executive order was in place, remind us what it was.
AMOS: Well, that's right. And, you know, I have to remind you that it's different than the process or lack of process in Europe. Here, refugees can't decide to come to the United States, they are chosen to do so. And they are heavily screened, more than 20 steps that includes extensive interviews, biometric checks, DNA fingerprints, iris scans. They're vetted by U.S. security agencies, you know, counterterrorism specialists, then they get additional checks with security agencies from American allies. And all of that continues - the whole while they're going through their medical checks and all the other things that they have to do - continues until they land. And even after that, Syrians have the most vigorous checks of any other refugees.
SHAPIRO: And Syrians have not been responsible for terrorist attacks within the U.S. despite the language of this order which talks about preventing terrorist attacks. You've spoken with some of the people who encouraged Donald Trump to go down this path, what is the case that they make?
AMOS: The opponents say we don't know who they are. You've heard the president say that, too. What they mean is we don't know their ideology, and for them suspicion falls heavily on Muslim refugees. Groups who oppose admitting Muslims, they're convinced without any evidence that many want to impose Islamic law to undermine the Constitution, so they want some kind of ideological test - a religious belief test. And, you know, we heard some echoing of this in the comments that Donald Trump made today about we only want people who love our country and who love our people.
SHAPIRO: Is a religious belief test something the U.S. has any recent experience with? It seems pretty extraordinary.
AMOS: No. And there may be some, you know, challenges. I'm sure that there will be legal challenges. You can already see that there is opposition building. One group, Mercy Corps, had a petition 20,000 people signed within 24 hours. There was a big demonstration last night in New York. There's been lots and lots of statements made by people who say this doesn't reflect American values. They're very, very upset about this dramatic change in the refugee program.
SHAPIRO: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Deborah Amos.
AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.