Home/Daniel Larison/Iranian Christians Seek Asylum, But Trump Won’t Let Them In

Iranian Christians Seek Asylum, But Trump Won’t Let Them In

The Trump administration likes to pretend that it cares about the people of Iran, and it also likes to pretend to care about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. We can see that both of those claims are hollow when the administration refuses to allow 100 Iranian Christians and other non-Muslims to find asylum in the U.S.:

The Trump administration has denied asylum to more than 100 Iranian Christian and other refugees who face possible persecution in their home country, despite White House promises to relieve the plight of religious minorities in the Middle East.

The group of refugees, mostly Christians along with other non-Muslims, have been stranded in the Austrian capital Vienna for more than a year, waiting for final approval to resettle in the United States. Now they face possible deportation back to Iran, where rights advocates say they face potential retaliation or imprisonment by the regime in Tehran for seeking asylum in the United States.

Permitting religious minorities that fear persecution to find asylum in the U.S. should be a relatively easy call even for this administration. The U.S. should be willing to take in those fleeing persecution. The administration is under an even stronger obligation to do this because their officials have talked about helping persecuted minorities in their public statements. It should be even easier for a hawkish administration to accept asylum-seekers from Iran. Unfortunately, the administration’s general aversion to accepting refugees of any kind seems to have slowed the entire process to a standstill:

Before President Donald Trump entered office, similar refugee cases under the Lautenberg Amendment had an approval rate of close to 100 percent. Prior to arriving in Vienna, the refugees go through initial screening, and Austria then issues transit visas on request of the State Department. Once in Austria, the refugees are interviewed by U.S. authorities.

In the past, the procedure took a matter of weeks or a few months. But the process has grinded [sic] to a virtual halt under Trump’s tenure, and rights groups said the administration could be violating the U.S. law.

In the case of the 100 Iranians, some other country could offer to take them in, but that probably won’t happen. If they can’t get asylum in the U.S., they will most likely have to go back to Iran. They were already at risk before they left, and if they have to go back they would obviously risk reprisals from the Iranian government:

Rights advocates and experts who monitor the treatment of Christian communities abroad say the Iranians have few options and will most likely be forced to travel back to Iran, where they will face potential retaliation and imprisonment.

There are thousands of other asylum-seekers still waiting in Iran for approval to go to Vienna. If these 100 are turned away, that will probably discourage many of the others from trying to come. It would be typical of Iran hawks to feign concern for the Iranian people while doing nothing to help any of them, but even for the hard-liners in the Trump administration this is ridiculous.

As we have come to expect from this administration, there is no legitimate security rationale for denying the asylum request of these Iranians:

The group of applicants marooned in Vienna include elderly and disabled people, and it was difficult to see any security threat from them, the [House members’] letter stated. “This sudden change in policy – from almost a hundred percent acceptance rate to nearly complete rejection – makes no sense, even on security grounds,” the congressmen wrote.

Moreover, Iranians previously admitted under the program with similar backgrounds have not posed a threat to the United States, it said.

There is no good reason not to grant asylum to these people, and there are compelling reasons to help those fearing persecution. If this decision receives more publicity, perhaps the administration will be embarrassed into changing its position and doing the right thing by these Iranians.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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