House Democrats unveil bill to lift refugee cap
House Democrats on Thursday introduced legislation to increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States, taking a direct shot at the Trump administration's move to cut the figure drastically.
The legislation has little chance of passing through the Republican-controlled Senate, where GOP leaders have consistently backed President Trump's hardline positions on immigration, the central issue of his 2016 campaign and a major plank of his presidency.
But it signals that Democrats view the hot-button issue as a political winner heading into 2020, particularly among independent voters with more moderate views than the president when it comes to immigration enforcement.
Last week, House Democrats passed legislation providing new legal protections both to people living under temporary protected status (TPS) and immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids.
The latest bill aims to benefit a third group: those forced to flee their country for fear of violence or persecution who are seeking refugee status in the U.S.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the sponsor of the proposal, slammed the administration for slashing the number of refugees permitted into the country. Congress, he said, has a moral duty to reverse that policy given the sheer number of violent hotspots around the globe — and the spike in threatened populations that have followed it.
“The Trump administration is once again slamming the door on refugees,” Connolly said in a statement. “Against a record high global refugee crisis, the Trump administration’s record-low refugee admissions cap is dangerous and un-American."
The United Nations refugee agency said Wednesday that, as of the end of 2018, a record 70.8 million people worldwide had been “forcibly displaced” from their homes due to war, natural disasters or persecution.
Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set a refugee cap for fiscal 2019 at 30,000 people — a decrease from 45,000 the year before and a stark drop from the average ceiling of 95,000 over the last four decades.
On Wednesday, the Pew Research Center reported that the actual numbers have dropped either further. In 2018, Pew found, the U.S. resettled just 23,000 refugees — down from 33,000 in 2017 and 97,000 in 2016. Canada, by contrast, accepted 28,000 refugees last year, Pew reported.
Dubbed the Lady Liberty Act, the Democrats' bill would require the administration to accept no fewer than 110,000 refugees each year, beginning in fiscal 2021. It establishes no cap.
Aside from Connolly, the legislation has been endorsed by 70 other Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Jim McGovern (Mass.), chairman of the Rules Committee; Elijah Cummings (Md.), chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee; and Ben Ray Luján (N.M), the No. 4 House Democrat and a 2020 Senate candidate.
“No one chooses to be a refugee," Connolly said. “These people are seeking safety and a better life. Congress has a moral responsibility to stand up to the President and let the world know we are still a welcoming and compassionate nation.”