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Grassley Calls for Congressional Action After Administration Again Bypasses Lawmakers on Refugee Cap

Children sit in front of their tent at a camp built by displaced people forced to leave Jisr al-Shughur due to continuous shelling at the village of Sarman, Idlib Province, Syria, on Sept. 5, 2018. (Anas ALkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is angry about the Trump administration deciding on refugee caps without a congressional consultation mandated by law.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the cap would be slashed to a low that hasn’t been seen since enactment of the United States Refugee Act of 1980.

The administration previously lowered the number of refugees admitted from 110,000 when President Trump took office to 45,000, though the number admitted last fiscal year did not near that cap. That is being cut again to a 30,000 cap, Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.

Refugee resettlement does not include the number of people reaching America and applying for asylum. Pompeo said 280,000 asylum-seekers are anticipated in fiscal year 2019.

Grassley said Tuesday that he appreciates national security considerations of refugee policy reforms, including the “need to conduct adequate and thorough screenings of all who seek this benefit, it is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed.”

“Yet, for the second year in a row, the administration has willfully ignored its statutory mandate to inform and consult with Congress, including designated members of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, about the number of refugees to be admitted during the next fiscal year,” he added.

Grassley said that “despite significant bipartisan and bicameral outreach from Congress to the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services” the State Department announced the 2019 refugee numbers “at a public press briefing before consulting with Congress.”

“It is clear by the administration’s action that Congress should take action to ensure the required discussions occur in the future,” he said.

Last year, an “incredibly frustrated” Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) scolded the administration in a joint statement for doing the same thing.

“It is simply unacceptable to read in the press that the administration had reached its decision on the refugee cap before the mandated meeting with Congress had even been scheduled,” they said. “Since August, our offices have made bipartisan requests to the State Department on this meeting. Congress and the law require real engagement on this important subject.”

President Trump told reporters at the White House today that the number was cut to 30,000 “because we want to be able to take what we can handle.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) called the cap Trump building “metaphorical walls around our country, decimating our moral leadership and the values that define us as a people.”

“America under Donald Trump’s failed leadership continues to turn its back on the most vulnerable, innocent people in the world,” Cardin said. “In the midst of the worst global refugee crisis since the Second World War, the United States should be leading by example, making such cruelty hard to understand. I urge the administration to restore the refugee cap to previous levels, and to be thoughtful and serious about how to really strengthen our nation’s national security because this kind of policy only makes us weaker.”