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U.S. Should Favor the Most Vulnerable Religious Refugees

Last week, the Trump Administration made another attempt to revamp U.S. visa and refugee policy. The latest effort appears to be far better planned and executed than before. More limited in scope and reasonable in application, it at least will avoid the spectacle of travelers being turned away in mid-flight.

There still are doubts about its impact. The terrorist threat posed by visa holders and certified refugees is quite small. By almost any measure the most dangerous nation is Saudi Arabia, which is not mentioned by the administration. Perfect safety is impossible, and the U.S. pays a price if it increasingly walls itself off from the world—in business, education, culture, sports, politics, and more. That Americans are tempted to do so is a good reason to rethink a policy of unnecessarily promiscuous military intervention, which creates enemies around the world. The U.S. would not feel as much pressure to hide behind a national barrier if the authorities were not busy bombing, invading, and occupying other states, as well as backing repressive governments of all stripes. Washington sometimes appears determined to make as many enemies as possible.

One of the most controversial aspects of the original executive order was a provision offering priority to Christian refugees. This was taken as a form of religious discrimination and cited in legal arguments against the measure. So the latest iteration includes no similar preference.

Washington should take refugees, including Muslims, from all countries. The vast majority of those killed and displaced in Middle Eastern violence are Muslim. And while Islam is the dominant faith throughout the region, it is fractured, leaving Sunnis and Shiites as minority sects in different countries. The Islamic State has targeted Shia as well as non-Muslims. Mideast Christians have urged America to remain open to all.

However, religions are not equal when it comes to evaluating refugees. As activists, such as my friend Jim Jacobson of Christian Freedom International, as well as legislators, including my Reagan administration colleague, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), point out, there are non-sectarian reasons to favor members of minority faiths. And not just Christians, but also Yazidis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, Jews, Alawites, and others. The purpose is not to discriminate against Islam, but to recognize the importance of other factors.

First, religious minorities have suffered disproportionately across the region. Last year Secretary of State John Kerry described ISIS as committing “genocide.” Whatever the appropriate technical term—it is certainly “religious cleansing”—Islamist radicals have targeted non-Muslims for especially brutal treatment. The group ADF International reported on the Islamic State’s manifold depredations: “killings, rapes, torture, kidnappings, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments.” Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil (Kurdistan, Iraq) said “We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to faith.”

Sectarian conflict first erupted in Iraq after the counterproductive U.S. invasion and botched occupation; since then two-thirds or more of the roughly 1.5 million Christians were forced from their homes. The initial exodus was intensified by the Islamic State’s murderous military campaign across Iraq’s north. The latter also targeted other religious minorities, including Yazidis, whose monotheistic, syncretic faith is considered Satanic by ISIS: they do not receive even the barest consideration from being “People of the Book,” meaning mentioned in the Koran, as do Jews and Christians.

After Iraq’s implosion, Syria became a refuge for the religiously vulnerable, especially Christians. But as the latter country collapsed into civil war they suffered a fate similar to that of Iraqi believers. Christians, Alawites, and others tended to back Bashar al-Assad’s regime as the best hope for security, which put them at risk even from “moderate” insurgents, as well as the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and its successor, and similar radical groups.

More than 60 percent of the 1.25 million Christians in Syria in 2011 have been forced to flee. Many who remained are vulnerable to the vagaries of battlefield control. What separates religious minorities from surrounding Muslim populations is that the former are targets of oppression, not merely inadvertent victims of violence.

Second, non-Muslims have essentially nowhere to go in the Middle East when they flee violence. One of the great tragedies of the Syrian civil war is that it threatens the role of Assad’s secular dictatorship as a refuge for tens of thousands of Christians fleeing sectarian conflict in Iraq. That’s also why many continue to back, or at least not oppose, the Assad regime: they’ve already seen the movie of radical Islamists taking control and they don’t like the ending.

With Syria dissolving into violence as Iraq implodes a second time, there are few safe places left. Kurdistan, Muslim but moderate, and Lebanon, with a substantial Christian minority, have been the main options. But the former has more than a million refugees and the latter may have twice as many or more. As international agencies trim funding, neither country wants more costly dependents.

Jordan and Turkey also host millions of refugees. But both are majority Muslim. Although relatively moderate in their treatment of non-Muslims, religious minorities remain outsiders. Moreover, refugee camps in both nations are dangerous for members of other faiths. There is little hope for Muslim residents who linger for years in such facilities. At their best such camps offer a much tougher existence for Christians and others. And it usually is worse in practice.

Patrick Kelly, whose organization, the Knights of Columbus, sponsored a report on religious persecution, reported: “We have evidence that Christians in the camps are being targeted, that ISIS and other militias are sending assassins into the camps, that there is sex slavery and kidnapping.” This experience discourages Christians from seeking refuge in camps, which in turn makes it harder for them to even register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, necessary for referral to the U.S.

Other countries in the Mideast, despite possessing abundant oil wealth, refuse to accept those fleeing civil war and conflict. Some refugees with money have taken up residence in the Gulf, but the number remains small. And none of these nations want more non-Muslims. Indeed, Saudi Arabia bars the public practice of any faith other than Islam, making it an impossible destination for anyone holding seriously to another faith.

Finally, non-Muslims are extraordinarily unlikely to commit terrorism or other acts of violence against Americans. Those persecuted by ISIS and similar groups won’t be “inspired” to kill on Islam’s behalf. Moreover, while martyrdom is lauded, it is a willingness to accept hardship and death while standing for one’s faith, not murdering others. Vetting is still necessary to assess an applicant’s claimed faith, though that isn’t as difficult as some assume: for instance, many Middle Eastern Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The human carnage from the Iraq and Syria conflicts has been extraordinary. Washington bears an unusual share of blame for the horror, having triggered Iraq’s sectarian conflict, which in turn spawned ISIS, with the Bush administration’s misbegotten 2003 invasion. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced as a result.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration cannot turn back time. And mistaken intervention in the past should not become the excuse for new rounds of Mideast war-making. Ultimately only people in the region can sort out their problems. Washington officials should focus on keeping Americans out of future conflicts.

However, the U.S. should join other nations in offering refuge to vulnerable people seeking to escape war, especially conflicts that Washington helped start. That doesn’t mean ignoring security concerns. But Americans should be willing to accept a small risk for doing great good to those in need.

Of course, the likelihood of any particular Muslim refugee doing harm is small. In implementing its new regulations the Trump administration should clearly state that it will not discriminate against any faith, including Islam. Americans should help people in need, irrespective of their beliefs.

However, with public concern so high, emphasizing religious minorities is one strategy to maximize the public’s willingness to accept those fleeing Middle Eastern conflicts. Ignoring the difference in risk factors for refugees does Syrians and others little good if the result is to reduce the number able to come to America.

Washington should recognize the unique attributes of non-Muslims in the Middle East. These refugees reduce security concerns for the U.S. and warrant speeding the evaluation and acceptance of members of minority faiths. As Archbishop Warda observed: “I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.”

Indeed, federal law encouraged the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union and today does the same for Christian, Baha’i, Jewish, and other religious minorities seeking to leave Iran. Congress should apply that principle more broadly today. In 2015 Rep. Rohrabacher introduced The Save Christians from Genocide Act to enhance the refugee status of Christians and Yazidis. Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas proposed the “Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act” to speed refugee processing for religious minorities threatened by the Islamic State.

Whatever the exact means, Washington should act on behalf of people facing death and destruction at the hands of determined killers. America can’t welcome everyone in need. But it can, and should, do more in the face of extraordinary tragedy. Politics should not stop the U.S. from helping the least among us.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "U.S. Should Favor the Most Vulnerable Religious Refugees"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 15, 2017 @ 10:41 pm

i see no reason why the US should take in a single soul, unless they have actively assisted US ambitions. And I don’t mean rebels.

States have responsibilities to their citizens. In the current chaos taking place in the Middle East, I see no reason why we must alleviate those States from doing just that – taking care of their own.

Certainly grown men and women can make choices not to kill each other to settle their disputes.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 15, 2017 @ 10:45 pm

“Politics should not stop the U.S. from helping the least among us.”

The least among us . . . certainly you are talking about the least US citizen.

#3 Comment By Jones On March 15, 2017 @ 11:01 pm

I think this is perfectly reasonable. It’s so easy to be reasonable, if you really try. Too bad this administration — and the broader movement behind it — has forever forsaken its credibility to deliver this kind of message. This is why demonstrating even-handedness is advantageous. More to the point, it’s the reason that populism is so antithetical to good policy.

#4 Comment By Al Strickland On March 16, 2017 @ 12:00 am

Kudos for the title of this article: “U.S. Should Favor the Most Vulnerable Religious Refugees.” As someone who tries to be principled I applaud your reference to “Yazidis, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, Jews, Alawites, and others.” Of course this includes Muslims and Falun Gong from China, Sufis from Egypt and even Wicca from Europe, correct?

#5 Comment By Winston On March 16, 2017 @ 1:22 am

These refugees created by US interventions
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Syria: Another Pipeline War

#6 Comment By Kid Charlemagne On March 16, 2017 @ 8:09 am

This includes Muslims – from Burma or Central African Republic for example. How does that square with President Trump’s stated objectives?

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 16, 2017 @ 10:45 am

Doug Bandow makes a vitally important point: The US needs to stop “unnecessarily promiscuous military intervention, which creates enemies around the world. The U.S. would not feel as much pressure to hide behind a national barrier if the authorities were not busy bombing, invading, and occupying other states, as well as backing repressive governments of all stripes. Washington sometimes appears determined to make as many enemies as possible.”

If Patrick Kelly is right that Christians in the refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan are being targeted by ISIS, the solution in not to bring the refugees to the US, but to send enough money to Turkey and Jordan to insure that the Christian refugees are protected in separate, safe refugee camps in those countries.

In the same way, several billion US dollars would help to significantly upgrade all of the Turkish and Jordanian camps for Syrian refugees – so that the refugees can be well-fed, well-housed, and safe until they can safely return to their homes in Syria.

The answer to the Syrian refugee crisis is to provide the money for safety and good nutrition, good housing, good health care, and good schools in refugee camps in contiguous Middle Eastern countries – not to resettle the Syrian refugees in the US and Europe.

#8 Comment By ControlE On March 16, 2017 @ 10:56 am

EliteCommInc. says:
March 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm
i see no reason why the US should take in a single soul, unless they have actively assisted US ambitions. And I don’t mean rebels.

The problem with that is that we created, or intensified, the unrest that has left a lot of these people as refugees. Not all of them of course, but a not insignificant amount. If we are call ourselves a humanitarian nation, then we should be at least partly responsible for assisting those hurt by our actions.

That said, this was a well-reasoned article. As an atheist I struggle with coming to terms with the need to recognize someones religion for assistance. But… in this situation I do agree that there are definitely circumstances that put minority religions into harms way.

#9 Comment By Johann On March 16, 2017 @ 11:21 am

Interpretations of the first amendment provisions protecting freedom of religion have gone completely bonkers.

First amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

All it means is that the government cannot establish an official religion, such as the Church of England, and cannot pass laws prohibiting the practice of a religion.

#10 Comment By KansasM On March 16, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

I agree with Winston above. It’s strange to listen to this anti-immigrant “America First” fear mongering when it’s absolutely no secret US foreign policy has and does wreak havoc not only in the Middle East but south of our border as well. When the US is actively engaged in destabilizing regions through war, military aid, and CIA operations that has perversely benefited our own stability, what do you expect? People are going to flee areas of instability to areas of stability for their own safety and the safety of their family. Any one of us would do the same should we find ourselves in these immigrants’ position. However much we don’t want to leave our homes and cultures, it is the rational decision when faced with such destruction. Given our role in creating the instability in the homelands of these immigrants, it becomes a moral imperative to take them in. If you don’t like immigrants, stop supporting politics and policies that spur immigration.

#11 Comment By roy swillum On March 16, 2017 @ 2:03 pm

It should JUST the most Vulnerable Refugees. Religion should not be part of the equation.

#12 Comment By Conrad On March 16, 2017 @ 7:01 pm

My first time visiting this site, and this was the first article I read.

I’m stunned to have read a well written, reasonable arguement. Not something that I expected to see “on the Internet”. Kudos. Now I have something to think about…

#13 Comment By James Drouin On March 16, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

“However, the U.S. should join other nations in offering refuge to vulnerable people seeking to escape war, especially conflicts that Washington helped start.”

Wrong on two counts:

a). Importing war refugees JUST because they’re war refugees simply guarantees that the causes of thay war are brought to the US.

b). Shias and Sunnis have been fighting ever since Mohammed went to meet his allocated number of virgins. That’s a fact, and it’s never going to change.

#14 Comment By Rossbach On March 16, 2017 @ 9:36 pm

Instead of opening our doors to foreigners, no matter how deserving, perhaps we should focus our attention and resources on Americans seeking refuge from chronic unemployment, rampant crime, and urban decay. We have ignored the beggar on our own doorstep for the past 50 years. It’s time to start taking care of our own.

#15 Comment By John_M On March 16, 2017 @ 11:50 pm

While I find the argument reasonable as a weighting factor, but the more important question is how many of what immigrants should we be taking: high skill, family reunification, refugees, and foreigners that the US owes (translators / collaborators from overseas struggles, etc). We must admit that all immigrants come with both benefits and costs and that our capacity to absorb immigrants is not unlimited.

While I disagree with his national origin concerns, in my opinion, President Trump is correct that we should reexamine the weighting of these categories and may want to reconsider the numerical limits. We also need to crack down on the H1B immigrant abuse channel – which both abuses the immigrants and destroys domestic jobs.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 17, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

“When the US is actively engaged in destabilizing regions through war, military aid, and CIA operations that has perversely benefited our own stability, what do you expect?”

First,
I think one would expect that such people would ban together, scream, holler and demand that the US engage in repairing the damage. But they have made the choice to kill each other, regardless of US presence and influence.

Second,
if they would cease in self destruction the international community, including the US would participate in rebuilding and restoring. However, since they are intent on wiping each other off the face of the earth. Might be sound to wait for the dust to settle.

Third,
When the US had its civil war, other states, considered stepping in for motives their own. They chose not to do so. It might be a good idea to allow the tragedy to play itself out minus our involvement in any way so they can settle the questions.

#17 Comment By Lesley On March 17, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

Reading the comments it appears that some people continue to conflate “refugees” with “immigrants”. These are two completely different categories and therefore the rules governing them should also be different. Vetting a refugee, whose very life is in danger, as to whether he/she is highly skilled does not make sense. By all means do that with immigrants. The most vulnerable amongst refugees must be considered first and at this point in time from this region it does happen to be Christians. Why all the soul searching when it comes to helping Christians? Has Christophobia now become the norm in America?

#18 Comment By Zebesian On March 18, 2017 @ 8:07 am

There is actually a fairly good case for prioritizing gay refugees. They are much more oppressed than most, they are highly unlikely to try to establish Sharia Law (the system that wants them dead), they will not harass women and they will not outbreed the locals.

#19 Comment By Rehmat On March 18, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

Christians in Muslim-majority countries especially Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Indonesia, etc. are far better of than Black Christians in United States or overall Christians in Israel.

Christians are allowed to build churches, private religious schools, join military, political parties, judiciary and are even appointed member parliament and serve as cabinet ministers. When was the last time Doug Bandow heard of a Muslim in American administration?

The article shows the bigotry of the author – as it’s a common knowledge that 9/11 was an inside job.

FBI in its 2006 report had claimed that between 1980-2004, Muslim extremists committed 6% of terrorist acts in the country as compared to 7% by Jews, and rest by Christians and atheists.

On December 17, 2015, the Jewish News Online published an interview with Jurgen Todenhofer, the German reporter who had spent 10 days with the US-Israel created terrorist group ISIS in Iraq – claiming the terrorist group only fears Israeli army – knowing the latter is far greater terrorist organization than ISIS.

On December 12, 2001, Rob Miller (Jew) posted an article, entitled, Israel: A terrorist success story at Australia’s Green Left Weekly.

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#20 Comment By HP On March 19, 2017 @ 2:14 am

While the US is “debating” who would be the “right” refugees – and discriminating against the “wrong” ones – they are settling here in Europe. We don’t just have Muslims coming from the ME, there are two big Eastern Christian churches in my Brussels neighbourhood and I know of two more within a 3 km radius.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

“The problem with that is that we created, or intensified, the unrest that has left a lot of these people as refugees.”

Despite acknowledging the culpability here, I see no reasonable answer that explains why we should intervene. Again, they are adults. They could simply choose to quit.

As for the contention that these are refugees. It makes absolutely no difference. This not an issue of the make shift definitions of status. Refugee status by definition indicates that said refugees will return home. Since that is the case, it far wiser logistically to maintain refugee status in the region as opposed to the US.

I think if we need to create a safe haven for for some, it certainly should not be in the US. Until we have care for the vulnerable here in the country, I am not inclined to invite those of another. As noted previously, these are issues among those people and those people ought to afforded the struggle to work it out.

I reject the slight of hand attempt to import christians because some think it will bolster christianity here in the US.

#22 Comment By Dennis G Davis On March 19, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

Why is it that the constitution is not the mirror in which a policy is viewed/measured. We have seen a narrow interest based (oil) policy without regard to the people inhabiting the regions will come home to roost – NYC. Therefore our constitution does not allow us to have a religious based policy. PERIOD. Now what we should do is establish it is in the national interest to be present in a nation for our larger values of democracy, peace, and mutual defense – and from here decide to aid all people – regardless of religion – who are vulnerable, and voice allegiance to our values. With this standard we look at individuals – a conservative value – and hold the individual responsible for their actions. For people to come here they must be sure we are not giving lip service to the Constitution, but live by using it as force for good that it was meant to be.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 20, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

” With this standard we look at individuals – a conservative value – and hold the individual responsible for their actions.”

Uhh, excuse me. I am unclear why we need o import any here to help them.

The mandate for the churches is that they assists each other. None of that demands importing immigrants or refugees. into the US. Nothing about our laws or ethics prevents Churches from assisting the people of states in conflict.

If a church feels so compelled by all means do so. But that is a different matter.

#24 Comment By John Fargo On March 22, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

A long article followed by numerous comments and not one mention of atheists though atheism, like homosexuality, is an instant death sentence in many parts of the world. The simple act of non-belief is view by most Amerikans as some sort of threat and unworthy of compassion. Religious rights do not seem to apply to those who chose not to practice one.