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Durbin, Schakowsky speak out against Trump administration’s cuts to refugee admissions program

A State Department proposal released last week would put a cap on the number of refugees at 18,000 for the fiscal year that started Monday.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky spoke out Thursday against a recent announcement from the Trump administration to cut refugee admissions in the United States by 85% — the lowest number since the resettlement program was created in 1980.

“This announcement by this administration is a betrayal of the basic values of America,” Durbin said during a news conference at RefugeeOne, which touts on its website as the largest refugee resettlement agency in Illinois that has “welcomed more than 18,000 refugees since 1982.”

A State Department proposal released last week would put a cap on the number of refugees at 18,000 for the fiscal year that started Monday. Of those refugee admissions spots, 5,000 would be set aside for persecuted religious minorities — an attempt to bolster President Donald Trump’s heightened focus on global religious freedom — and 1,500 would be set aside for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who are seeking asylum in the United States in far greater numbers.

“No one asks to be a refugee, we just want to live our life in safety and peace,” said Yara Meerkhan, 35, who fled Syria with her husband and, through RefugeeOne, was resettled in the Chicago area six months ago.

Durbin, who added that Trump appeared “unhinged” during a press conference Wednesday with the president of Finland, said the U.S. can “absorb, and really give an opportunity to” up to 90,000 refugees every year.

“It’s going to make us a stronger nation and it’s going to remind the world that, yes, the United States is different,” he said. “It’s going to remind the world — if we accept these refugees, that we still cling to the values that really differentiate us from many nations in the world.”

Durbin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he planned to address refugee admissions with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

“I’m going to ask them the very basic question: Are you proud of this number [of 18,000]? Does this really speak to you in terms of what this nation is supposed to be all about?”

Schakowsky added, “Part of the plan is to do away with the infrastructure that actually has helped to resettle people in this country.”

She noted that she is a co-sponsor of several pieces of legislation in the House that would increase refugee admissions in the U.S., including the GRACE Act and the Lady Liberty Act.

Durbin said that the “Republican leadership does not want to open the door to conversations about immigration on the floor of the (Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security) or on the floor of the Senate.

“We’re not considering any [immigration] proposals at this point,” he said.

Durbin and Schakowsky were joined by refugees, refugee agencies, advocates, and civic and faith partners in calling out the cuts to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.