Senate Democrats urged President Donald Trump to revise the proposed refugee ceiling of 18,000, a figure which would be a historic low, in a letter addressed to the President Friday.
“We ask that you to immediately reverse course and heed the recommendation of top US military officials and faith leaders to open our doors to eligible refugees from all corners of the world,” the letter reads. “A generous US refugee policy spares tens of thousands from terrible fates.”
The letter, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ed Markey, comes on the heels of the State Department’s report to Congress that proposed a refugee cap – which dictates how many refugees may be admitted to the US – to 18,000 for fiscal year 2020, which begins next week.
Under Trump, the administration has slowly chipped away at the refugee cap. The ceiling for fiscal year 2019 stands at 30,000, which, at the time, was the lowest level since 1980.
The State Department announced the proposed refugee ceiling Thursday as part of a larger number of combined refugee and asylum claims expected for the next fiscal year.
In a call with reporters, senior administration officials said the report submitted to Congress allocates admissions by “group of special humanitarian interests to the United States,” instead of by region – including Iraqis who assisted the United States, those who have suffered or feared religious persecution, and nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The White House also released an executive order Thursday that requires state and local governments to consent to receiving refugees, with some exceptions. Refugee resettlement agencies are charged with placing refugees around the country, but the new executive order could allow states and local jurisdictions to deny refugees entry.
Acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli defended the cap Friday and the proposed categories.
“America is still the number – as it has been for some time – the number one country in the world for providing humanitarian aid all around the world,” Cuccinelli said. “America will maintain that position going into the next year.”
“I have every reason to expect that to continue, including with the 18,000 person cap,” he added.
The administration is required to consult with Congress on the ceiling, although the President makes the final determination.
The other signatories include Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Duckworth, Chris Van Hollen, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Angus King, Mazie Hirono, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Jack Reed, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Patrick Leahy and Sherrod Brown.