By Michelle Baik, Medill, Immigrant Connect
President Trump may have failed in his attempt to prioritize the refugee claims of religious minorities in January, but some believe the administration is on the right track to reshape America as a sanctuary for persecuted Christians around the world.
Christian Freedom International (CFI), an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, responded with optimism to the executive order that would have prioritized refugee claims made by persecuted religious minorities, like Christians, after a 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
“The original executive order gave hope to people who had not had hope for a long time,” CFI President Jim Jacobson said.
Despite receiving support from some, President Trump received criticism as well. Within a week, a federal judge in Seattle halted the order nationwide.
The White House later revoked the order and released a revised edition in March, omitting language of any religion gaining privilege over another. The White House also explained in the order that the previous one “was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities — whoever they are and wherever they reside — to avail themselves of the USRAP in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.”
Jacobson said he believes President Trump revoked the executive order just to assuage his political opponents. According to Jacobson, the President has not given up on persecuted Christians. He is finding other means to help them.
“The State Department and the Homeland Security and Justice Department have all taken steps—already—to revise (the refugee resettlement) process, and we see it coming out as much more favorable to Christians than it’s ever been,” Jacobson said.
[Editor’s note: Ironically, other Trump administration policies relating to immigrants are drawing protests from Christian organizations, irate that deportations are pending for hundreds of Chaldean Christians from Iraq, as NPR reported in After Fleeing Persecution, U.S. Christian Refugees Now Face Deportation. Also see this story Immigrant Connect published in 2010 – Nabeel Aywab: Paradise found for a Christian family from Iraq.]
The executive order signed by President Trump on Jan. 27 also banned travel from seven Muslim-majority nations and prevented Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.
One of the various points that drew criticism said that the administration should “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”
Immigration attorney Ginger Devaney, who volunteered at O’Hare International Airport in the wake of the refugee ban, described how priority would have changed the current admissions system.
“Everyone that comes to the U.S. as a refugee and is prevetted has generally been in U.N. camps and they’re generally processed in order of how long they’ve been waiting,” Devaney said. “So It’s unfair to say, ‘Well this family of Christian Syrians, who’s been in the camp for six months, they should get preference over the family of Syrian Muslims, who’s been in the camp because they were victims of persecution due to their political beliefs, for three years.’”
No variations of the words Islam and Christianity were mentioned in the executive order, but Devaney said that “given which countries we’re talking about here, that functionally meant Christians.”
The Pew Research Center reported that 5.2 percent of Syrians were Christians in 2010. In the same year, 0.8 percent of Iraqis, 2.7 percent of Libyans, 2.4 percent of Palestinians were Christians, according to the same report.
Father Nicholas Dahdal, the head priest of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero, west of Chicago, is a native of the West Bank. He said that many Americans don’t associate Arabs with Christianity.
“(To) Americans in general, when (I) say that I am an Arab, it automatically clicks that (I am) a Muslim,” Father Nicholas said. “But I have been a Christian for the last 2000 years. I am number nine in generations of priests.”
On the day President Trump signed the original order, he spoke to David Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network about the persecution Christians face while living in Muslim-majority nations.
“They’ve been horribly treated,” President Trump said in the interview. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair.”
About 0.5 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States in fiscal year 2016 were Christians, according to the Refugee Processing Center.
One of several minority religious groups in the Middle East, Christians have faced persecution since the first century. The latest evidence of persecution was a deadly attack May 26 on Coptic Christians in Egypt. At least 28 people were killed.
Reports show that Christians are not safe, even in refugee camps.
Last year, the International Christian Consulate (ICC), an Athens-based organization working with churches to help vulnerable Christians, released a survey of Christians living in refugee camps in Greece. The ICC reported death threats, threats of beheadings and an overarching fear by Christians of the Muslim majority.
The ICC said it speaks on behalf of vulnerable Christians in British and European Parliaments.
In America, Jacobson said CFI has “friends on the Hill,” who are doing the same.