AP_Cover Story

Why Christian Priority?

By Vanessa Denha Garmo

Although Congress was not aware of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim countries prior to him signing it, his order was consistent with the campaign promises — just one of the many things noted by Congressman David Trott (R) from the 11th District as the opposition to the President continues.

Shortly after President Trump signed the executive order, he announced that persecuted Christians would be given priority status while trying to enter into the United States. That statement escalated the controversy. “There is no doubt that citizens of Iraq and Syria, regardless of their religion, are being persecuted, however Christians and other religious minorities are not just being persecuted, they are facing extinction,” said Trott. “This was proved in 2015 when the House of Representatives voted unanimously that religious minorities in Iraq and Syria were undergoing genocide at the hands of ISIS. Secretary Kerry subsequently stated that he agreed that these groups were facing genocide.”

This acknowledgment does not to take away from the fact that other religious and ethnic groups are facing persecution, but in fact is a realistic view at what is going on, on the ground in Iraq and Syria. “Any serious refugee policy coming from the United States has to prioritize religious minorities,” said Trott. “These minority groups in Iraq and Syria simply have nowhere else to go and are facing complete expulsion.”

The United States has a history of making it easier for the worlds most vulnerable to seek refuge in the United States: The “Lautenberg Amendment” was a provision of the FY1990 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. It required the Attorney General to designate categories of former Soviet and Indochinese nationals for whom less evidence is needed to prove refugee status.

The Lautenberg Amendment has been regularly extended in appropriations act and has also included a new provision known as the “Specter Amendment.” The Specter Amendment requires the designation of categories of Iranian nationals, specifically religious minorities, for whom less evidence is needed to prove refugee status.

“Also, there is a certain category for refugees called “priority 2”, which is comprised of cases involving persons from specific groups of special humanitarian concern to the United States (e.g.; religious minorities in Iran),” said Trott. “Currently this group includes members of religious minorities; Iraqi’s associated with the United States, and Cuban political activists, amongst other groups. Considering the realities on the ground, I believe it is appropriate to include Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria in this category.”

President Trump is doing everything he said he was going to do yet people in the country are reacting with such surprise and opposition. “President Trump was adamant on the campaign trail, saying that the United States had to do more to help religious minorities in the Middle East,” said Trott.

Since being elected to Congress in 2014, Trott has been a leader in Congress, advocating for then President Obama to name a Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, calling on the Obama administration to call what was going on to Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East a genocide, introducing legislation that calls on the United Nations to play a bigger role in the crisis in the Middle East, and also supporting legislation that would include Christians and other genocide survivors in the “Priority Two” (“P-2”) designation that would state that Christians and other genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minority communities are of “special humanitarian concern to the United States” and therefore able to access an overseas application interview for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program without needing a referral from the UN.

“Once the President finally named a Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, I brought him on his first official domestic trip, to personally meet with the local Chaldean community, not just to hear about the plight that Chaldean families are facing in Iraq, but to see the great, proud, successful community that we have in Southeast Michigan,” said Trott. “I thought it was important for the Obama administration to see first-hand just how connected local Chaldeans-Americans are with their heritage and history in Iraq. Providentially, on January 27, 2017, the same day that Trump signed his Executive Order on immigration, I sent a letter to President Trump, with 10 other bi-partisan members of Congress, urging him to prioritize the plight of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria in his foreign policy. For far too long under the previous administration these groups were neglected and only considered an afterthought.”

Since uprisings began in Syria in 2011, the United States admitted a total of 14,460 Syrian refugees. A little more than 1% of the almost 15,000 Syrian refugees admitted were religious minorities. “This is an astonishingly disproportionate number, which is why I commend President Trump on prioritizing the need for religious minorities in the U.S. refugee process,” said Trott.

The President was also clear on the need to protect the country’s borders and keep American safe from terrorists. “The scenes of refugees fleeing their homes across the Middle East are heartbreaking and, I believe, all people should be treated with dignity and respect,” said Trott. “While I am still reviewing the scope of the President’s Executive Order, I believe temporarily pausing individuals from countries compromised by terrorism is a reasonable approach until we can properly vet visitors from these nations.”

Trott continued to say that the reality is we currently do not have the intelligence and resources to properly vet these individuals, and admitting them without proper screening puts our national security and American lives at risk. “During this temporary stay, the federal government must develop a robust vetting process that allows us to continue to be a welcoming nation, while protecting American families and our national security,” he noted.

Recent Legislation Introduced:

In this developing story, on January 13th, House Resolution-565 was introduced. Its purpose is, “to recognize that Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya are targets of genocide, and to provide for the expedited processing of immigrant and refugee visas for such individuals, and for other purposes.”

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, was co-sponsored by Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills.

As reported by Oakland Press columnist Mark Cavitt’s recent article, “The bill would declare these two minority groups as targets of genocide in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Libya,” said a spokesperson for Rep. Bishop. “ISIS has risen to power and is engaged in genocide against those they deem unworthy – including Christians and Yazidis. It would also create an expedited processing of immigrant and refugee visas for these individuals.”

HR-565 is cited as the “Save Christians from Genocide Act”. “The rise and wrath of ISIS is very real, and we must urgently act to help those who have become targets because of their faith,” said Bishop. “While the screening process will not change, House Resolution 565 is a step in the right direction because expedited review of these individuals can save their lives. I’ve discussed this issue with the Chaldean community in recent weeks, and I am hopeful we can make a difference with this legislation.”