U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and nine other Democratic senators this week requested a briefing with Trump administration leaders, saying that the White House’s historic decrease in 2020 admissions for refugees could damage the country’s long-term ability to resettle them.
They said lowering the cap on refugee admissions — down from 110,000 in President Barack Obama’s final year to 18,000 for the new fiscal year — could effectively end the program by “starving the infrastructure” built by resettlement agencies.
“The Trump administration’s sweeping, structural changes to our refugee admissions and resettlement process merit thorough deliberations between Congress and the executive branch,” the senators wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.
Minnesota admitted just 663 refugees as primary arrivals in the 2018 fiscal year, the latest for which statistics are fully available. That was the lowest in at least a decade, reflecting Trump’s reduction of the refugee admissions ceiling to 30,000 nationally that year. In the first nine months of 2019, Minnesota took in 775 refugees.
The current refugee resettlement program dates to 1980 and has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades.
But in late September, the State Department said that the “current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle a large number of refugees. Prioritizing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in our country is simply a matter of fairness and common sense.”
The senators raised concerns that the White House’s allocation of refugees was untenable, with 4,000 slots reserved for Iraqis who assisted the U.S. military even as a lengthy security check process has prevented them from gaining entry into the country. They said that the new refugee allocation appeared to keep out “significant vulnerable populations in need of resettlement,” such as those under a special status that has brought in Congolese refugees and ethnic minorities from Burma.
Such groups have been part of a newer wave of Minnesota’s refugees in recent years: So far in 2019, the largest country of origin for the state’s refugees was Burma (362) and the second largest was Democratic Republic of Congo (145).
Klobuchar is running for the Democratic nomination for president, along with two of the other senators who signed the letter, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California.