There were signs this was coming. During his campaign, Trump called for a total ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, citing terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere as the reason for why the U.S. should be cautious about whom it admits. In policy terms, this has translated into not only a dramatic decline in the overall number of refugees, including Muslims, accepted by the U.S., but also into a sharp reduction in the number of vulnerable Christians resettled in the country.
Indeed, the U.S. set a record-low ceiling of 45,000 refugees for fiscal year 2018, which ended September 30. It resettled less than half that number: 22,491. Of this, 15,748 were Christians (about 70 percent), according to an analysis by Matthew Soerens, the U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, a Christian group that is one of nine U.S. organizations that resettles refugees in the United States. In contrast, the U.S. resettled 3,495 Muslims (about 15 percent of the total) in the fiscal year. On the face of it, Trump appeared to have kept his administration’s promise: favoring Christian refugees over those of other faiths. But a deeper look at the figures reveals a different picture.
Read about next year’s refugee ceiling.
“Not everybody who is Christian is persecuted because of their Christian faith,” Soerens told me. For instance, many of the refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo are Christian, but they are persecuted not because of their faith but because of their ethnicity or their political opinion. But if you’re a Christian in Iraq, for example, there’s a high likelihood that your Christian faith is a significant factor in why you’re being persecuted.
For instance: The U.S. government says Iraqi Christians and Yazidis face the threat of genocide at the hands of ISIS. Yet the U.S. admitted only 26 Iraqi Christians in fiscal year 2018. The numbers for other Middle Eastern countries weren’t much better: The U.S. admitted 23 Iranian Christians and 20 Syrian Christians. For the entire region, the U.S. admitted 70 Christians—a 97.7 percent decline from fiscal year 2017. (The U.S. accepted 161 Muslim refugees from the Middle East the same year. The corresponding percentage decline was 98.6 percent.)
When Soerens examined the data specifically from 11 countries—Afghanistan, Eritrea, India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—listed by Open Doors, a Christian advocacy group, as where Christians face the most extreme persecution, he found that 1,215 Christians were admitted, a 74.5 percent decline from fiscal year 2017. Citizens of some of those countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen—were on Trump’s original travel ban, along with those from Syria. But that ban faced several legal challenges; the one that is now in place includes travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and North Korea, along with citizens from Syria and some Venezuelans. Iranian Christians, in particular, have found themselves in legal limbo, as I reported last month. Nearly 100 of them are stranded in Vienna after challenging the mass rejection of their applications.