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Senators Call on Pompeo to Reverse Administration's 'Hostile Posture Towards Refugees'

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets State Department employees on May 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — A dozen Democratic senators wrote to new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today asking him to recommit to refugee resettlement, expressing alarm over a former White House aide close to Stephen Miller taking over at the helm of the State Department office.

Andrew Veprek, a Foreign Service officer who was detailed to the White House as an immigration adviser, was recently bumped in rank to deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

There is currently no nominee for an assistant secretary to oversee the bureau.

“My experience is that he strongly believes that fewer refugees should admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” a former U.S. official told Politico, adding that Veprek’s views about migrants appeared impassioned to the point of seeming “vindictive.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), along with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeff  Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D- N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told Pompeo they have “grave concern” about the implications of Veprek’s appointment as well as broader administration refugee policy as a record 65 million people worldwide are currently displaced because of war, famine, and other disasters.

“In times of crisis, the United States must assert leadership on the global stage through the values that have made this country so successful. That leadership has historically served as an important uniting voice in the face of great challenges,” the senators wrote. “However, instead of asserting moral and strategic leadership, we are concerned that this administration has developed a hostile posture towards refugees, which ultimately weakens our global standing and the ability to promote international stability.”

The administration capped fiscal year 2018 refugee admissions at 45,000, “nearly half the historic average,” they noted, adding that the administration “is rigging the admissions system to ensure that only around 20,000 refugees are permitted to come here in that period.”

“Admitting refugees to the United States is a moral imperative and reducing the number of people we accept sends the wrong message to other countries,” the senators wrote.

The Dems argued that appointing FSO Veprek to be a deputy assistant secretary is “the equivalent of placing a lieutenant colonel into a one-star general position.”

“This is just another troubling signal that this administration intends to continue dismantling our nation’s already crippled refugee program, with little regard for both the real-life and geopolitical implications of the policy,” they added. “Earlier reports suggest that Veprek favors dramatically lowering the annual cap on refugee admissions, and that international migration should be curtailed.”

“A lack of understanding of how to utilize resettlement as a tool to advance U.S. foreign policy interests will undo decades of progress on refugee protection, shake critical alliances, and ultimately lead to further abdication of U.S. leadership. Therefore, we strongly urge you to impress upon Mr. Veprek the value of implementing a robust refugee resettlement program and recommit to U.S. leadership in resettling the most vulnerable populations in the world.”

Pompeo told senators at his confirmation hearing that he was committed to finding out “what’s driven” the low refugee acceptance numbers this year.

“I think America has important role here, with respect to refugees. And we have an important role to provide humanitarian systems for those that are seeking refuge,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month. “As close to the place that they are, I’ve had a chance to meet with some of these refugees in very, very difficult situations. You have my full commitment that we’ll work on those issues together.”