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Grassley, Feinstein slam Trump administration for not consulting Congress on refugees
By SEUNG MIN KIM 09/27/2017 07:25 PM EDT Updated 09/28/2017 10:19 AM EDT
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee blasted the Trump administration on Wednesday for insufficiently consulting with Congress before deciding the number of refugees that will be admitted into the United States next year.
The unusually harsh joint condemnation of the State Department from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s chairman, and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California came as the administration slashed the number of refugees the country will take in during fiscal 2018 to 45,000 people. President Barack Obama had aimed to admit 110,000 refugees in the current fiscal year, which ends Saturday.
Aides to the senators said a meeting on the issue with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wasn’t even scheduled until after details of the administration’s refugee plan had leaked out to the news media on Tuesday. The meeting occurred at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday — just before the senators issued their joint statement.
“We are incredibly frustrated that the annual consultation for refugee admissions, which is required by law, was finalized just one day in advance,” Grassley and Feinstein said. “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.
“Since August, our offices have made bipartisan requests to the State Department on this meeting,” the senators continued. “Congress and the law require real engagement on this important subject. An eleventh-hour meeting to check a legal box is not sufficient.”
Under the law, the administration is required to consult with Capitol Hill in person before a president can formally issue the annual number of refugee admissions. The administration must also submit a report to Congress on the matter.
The Trump administration's refugee report — which has not yet been made public but was obtained by POLITICO — also outlines a new potential hurdle for those seeking admission as a refugee into the United States.
While generally refugees have only needed to show a fear of persecution, the Trump administration's report says the government may now also consider how well the refugee would integrate into the United States.
According to the 70-page report, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will "work closely" with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to "ensure that, in addition, to referrals of refugees with compelling protection needs, referrals may also take into account certain criteria that enhance a refugee’s likelihood of successful assimilation and contribution in the United States.
The State Department on Wednesday night referred questions about the policy to its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
But advocates for refugees are beginning to raise concerns about the assimilation policy. Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, called it "new criteria that undermines the spirit of humanitarianism that underlies the Refugee Act.
"Moreover, it’s not clear what problem this criteria is trying to solve, as refugees already succeed in integrating into American society," Schwartz said. "In any case, I’d be reluctant to leave to pseudo-sociologists in government the determinations about which refugees will do better in the United States."
The refugee report outlines several ways that agencies are working on integration efforts for refugees. For instance, Homeland Security is exploring whether to prioritize "grant-funded programs that focus on integrating newly arrived refugees and recently approved asylees through a variety of critical assimilation services," according to the report.
Feinstein issued a statement later Wednesday calling the refugee cap of 45,000 “completely unacceptable” and that it “does not reflect the needs of the worldwide humanitarian crisis.”
“California accepts more refugees than any other state—9 percent of the U.S. total—and I’ve never been told about a problem,” Feinstein said. “Simply put, our country is not doing its part to respond to this global crisis and there’s no good reason for that to be the case. We’re better than this.”