Lawmakers Unhappy With Pompeo’s Lowered Cap on Refugees

New cap of 30,000 is a historic low

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez called the Trump administration’s decision to lower the annual refugee cap “truly repugnant.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez called the Trump administration’s decision to lower the annual refugee cap “truly repugnant.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 19, 2018 at 9:00am

Lawmakers of both parties are criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to lower the annual refugee cap to 30,000 people for fiscal 2019 — a sharp decrease from the 45,000 cap set for fiscal 2018, and also a historic low.

“At a time when we should be defending our values and ideals as Americans and working to alleviate the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, it is truly repugnant to see the Trump administration double down on its efforts to reject our foundational values and humanitarian duty of providing those escaping persecution the opportunity to seek protection and safe haven,” Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Monday.

His fellow New Jersey Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who has long opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to lower the refugee cap, said the administration continues “to show contempt for those most in need.”

“At every turn, Trump has erected hurdles to clog the flow of immigrant resettlement in the United States,” Pascrell added. “Before we know it, Trump will set the number close to zero. Congress must demand this administration reverse course. The need is out there. The world is watching.”

New Jersey has seen a rapid influx of refugees from Syria escaping the civil war in that country in recent years; Paterson, in Pascrell’s district, has been among the welcoming destinations.

The 30,000 refugee cap is the lowest the U.S. has set since its creation in 1980, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush generally set the cap at 70,000 or 80,000 per year. In the 1980s, it averaged 116,000 per year; in the 1990s, 110,000 per year; and in the aughts, 75,000 per year.

Some Republicans called the new refugee cap “extreme.”

“Obviously, we can’t take into this country everybody who wishes to come here, but we have long been a generous country in welcoming those who are truly refugees and a cap this low is going to cause so much pain, hardship and even potentially death of people we can be helping,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday. “So I do not support the lower cap.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement on Monday at the State Department, saying that “this year’s proposed refugee ceiling must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States.” Pompeo also said the U.S. would “process” more than 280,000 asylum-seekers, on top of over 800,000 asylum-seekers already in the U.S., numbers that are straining State’s resources. “The magnitude of this challenge is unequaled in any other country,” he said.

The announcement is the latest in a series of efforts by the Trump administration to restrict legal and illegal immigration flows into the U.S. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump created the “zero tolerance” initiative to prosecute individuals who entered the U.S. illegally, including those with children. That led to more than 2,500 children being separated from their parents at the border. The family separation policy has since been rescinded.

“The Trump administration has once again dropped America’s moral standing to a new low by setting the refugee ceiling at an embarrassingly low 30,000 in the midst of the worst refugee crises in history,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said in a statement Tuesday. “This historically low number betrays America’s values and relinquishes our leadership role in defending human rights.”