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Battle Over Immigration Quotas Brewing

Jacob Kornbluh

Trump, Congress may square off as deadline looms

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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Limiting immigration is either American, or un-American, depending on your perspective

A Trump administration proposal to restructure how the State Department evaluates foreign refugees seeking asylum in the US has triggered a sharp response from the diplomatic community.

The White House wants to break up the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and transfer its duties to other agencies in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

Foreign policy experts have countered with a report issued by Refugees International, a nongovernmental organization advocating for displaced people, urging preservation of the bureau, claiming the change could potentially block 100,000 refugees each year from obtaining sanctuary in the US.

The report warns that eliminating the bureau “will send an obvious and powerful signal… that the United States is diminishing its historical concerns about the displaced and disenfranchised.”

The report precedes this year’s “Presidential Determination” — a stipulation of the federal Refugee Act under which the president sets the maximum number of refugees allowed in for the upcoming fiscal year.

Since Congress passed the act in 1980, that maximum has averaged 96,702 entrants. The US has additionally accepted thousands of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. In 2016, 10,000 Syrian refugees were let in as part of President Obama’s policy. The Obama administration set a 2017 target of 110,000 total admissions.

That figure pales next to the 300,000 offered sanctuary in Germany in 2016, according to Eurostat. The European influx has coincided with skyrocketing rates of crime and anti-Semitic incidents, and far-right groups have capitalized on the controversy.

“With the refugee crisis bigger than it was after World War II, this is not the time for us to do less” —Mark Hetfield

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, campaigning as a senator in 2016 for Donald Trump, lambasted the Obama policy: “In addition to the very serious national security implications and the initial resettlement costs, admitting 110,000 refugees will result in an enormous long-term financial burden on the taxpayers.”

Nevertheless, with a US population nearly four times the size of Germany’s, the quotas are coming under scrutiny. American refugee advocates invoke the historical US responsibility to provide a haven.

“With the refugee crisis getting bigger than it was after World War II, this is not the time for us to do less,” says Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helps refugees. “We need all countries to do more, and we need to lead by example.”

Founded in 1881 as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to assist Jews fleeing Eastern Europe, HIAS today provides humanitarian aid to migrants of all stripes. The agency has now thrust itself into the political storm brewing around the refugee issue.

“We’re trying to prevent the president from acting,” Hetfield asserts. “We certainly want Congress to exercise sovereignty over that area and make it clear that there can’t be a restructuring of the refugees function without their authorization.

“Trump now has his first opportunity to set the ceiling, and we just want to make sure that he sets it to at least 75,000 because the refugee crisis right now is extraordinarily large.” 

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 675. Jacob Kornbluh is also the political reporter for

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