Democratic lawmaker calls asylum, refugee programs 'crown jewel' of immigration system

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) criticized the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration, calling the United States's asylum and refugee programs the "crown jewel" of the nation's immigration system.

"The asylum and refugee system is the crown jewel of our immigration system," Cicilline, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, told Hill.TV on Friday. "It's on our statute of liberty."

"When people are fleeing violence, and war and famine and natural disasters - we open our arms and we welcome them," he continued. "We have a process - a law that says if you have a legitimate reason to seek asylum it will abdicated and you'll get to stay and if not sent back."

"We should be proud of that," he added.

Cicilline's comments come amid reports that the administration is considering capping the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in 2020 to zero. This would effectively shutdown the U.S.'s refugee program.

The Trump administration has also sought to place caps on the asylum claims, which is separate under the U.S. immigration system. While refugees typically apply for protection while outside of the country, asylum-seekers typically make their applications once they've arrived.

The Justice Department and Homeland Security Department also announced plans this week to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants. 

Under the new rule, those who pass through another country before reach the U.S. would be ineligible for asylum when they reach the southern border.

But there are some exceptions to the rule, such as those who are victims of human trafficking.

Attorney General William Barr described the move as necessary move to address the influx of migrants at the southern border and rising number of those trying to seek asylum.

"The United States is a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement announcing the news.

Two immigration advocacy groups have already sued the Trump administration over the asylum restrictions. 

The Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services filed the lawsuit, saying such restrictions violate the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

-Tess Bonn