Millions of Syrians have fled their homes amid civil war, flooding Europe and causing a refugee crisis not seen since the end of World War II. Recently, the Obama administration announced its intention to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States over the next year, an increase from fewer than 2,000 this year.
That number could rise to as many as 100,000 refugees by 2017. Overall, the United States takes in roughly 70,000 refugees a year, and some activists are calling for that number to be raised to 200,000.
Some experts have said allowing in so many refugees presents a national security risk. Others counter that America has a moral obligation to help those fleeing for their lives, as we have done to assist Cubans, North Vietnamese, Sudanese, and others in imminent deadly peril.
Here’s an idea that could satisfy both sides: The U.S. government should favor Christians who are fleeing their ancestral homelands and being targeted because of their faith.
Our Current Policy Makes Far Less Sense
The United States already admits more than a quarter-million Muslims a year—as migrants, students, and refugees. This should concern policy makers, because we know from recent surveys that many Muslims in America would prefer to be governed by sharia law rather than U.S. law under the Constitution. A 2015 poll by the Center for Security Policy found that about half (51 percent) of American Muslims would prefer to use sharia courts outside the U.S. legal system, and about a quarter believe that violence is justified in establishing sharia.
We also know Muslim immigrant communities are hotbeds of jihadi recruitment. The 9/11 hijackers were in the United States on visas. Since then, at least 20 jihadists have been allowed into the country—and were granted citizenship.Instead, U.S. policy should favor Christians, and we should make no apologies for that. For one thing, Christians are far more likely than Muslim refugees to share our values and the belief that our liberty comes from God.But until now, Syrian Christians have been granted refugee status in the United States at lower rates than Syrian Muslims. The United States has settled almost 1,600 Syrian refugees since the start of the civil war in 2011, according to the State Department. Almost all have been Muslims.
As Politifact has noted, between October 1, 2014 and July 17, 2015, 906 people have arrived from Syria, and 96 percent of them are Muslims, while only 3 percent (28 people) identified as Christian. This even though Syria’s population is 10 percent Christian, according to the CIA World Fact Book.
Christians Are the Neediest Refugees
The State Department should grant Syrian Christians P-2, or “Priority 2,” status, which means they would be given special consideration as refugees. P-2 status was granted to Christians and others fleeing the Soviet Union and to anti-Communists trying to leave Cuba. It has also been applied to religious minorities in Iran and other countries.
Other countries are considering taking similar steps. The leader of Australia’s Senate recently argued that Christians should be given priority in his country’s resettlement policy because Christians in the Middle East are “the most persecuted group in the world.” That’s the most important reason U.S. refugee policy should favor Christianity, particularly those struggling to survive in the land where St. Paul converted to Christianity—the land where some citizens still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
In areas of Syria controlled by the Islamic State, Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay a jizya (a religious tax), or face execution. Thousands have fled or been killed by not only ISIS but also the Nusra Front, another Islamist group. According to one estimate, one-third of Syria’s Christians have fled their homeland.
Recently, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) and Anna Eshoo (D-California) introduced a congressional resolution labeling the violence being perpetrated against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as genocide. So far, 78 of their colleagues have signed on.
Many other leading figures, including Pope Francis, have used the g-word to describe the plight of Christians in Syria. Historically, the United States has often answered the call whenever religious minorities and other persecuted people have faced humanitarian crises. We should do so now.