As I wrote on Monday, this policy stance on persecuted Christians puts Mike Pence in a bind. It’s not viable—or, likely, legal—to propose that all immigrants from countries affected by violence take religious tests before entering the United States to determine whether they are Christian or Muslim or Jewish or adherents of some other religion. This was what some Republican presidential candidates advocated during the primary season, and that was Trump’s original proposal as well. For the general-election campaign, though, the campaign has pivoted: As Lotter said, Trump and Pence are now proposing temporary bans on entire countries or areas.
That creates a political problem, though: Many conservative voters, particularly those of faith, care a lot about protecting persecuted Christians. Especially for Mike Pence—the purported moral voice of the Trump campaign, the provider of conservative Christian bona fides, the self-styled defender of religious freedom—it seems politically dangerous to argue that the United States should turn away members of religious minority groups who have literally been crucified in the Middle East.
To that point: “I want to reiterate that Governor Pence has had a strong record in supporting Israel and supporting Christians facing persecution,” Lotter said.
That Trump and Pence would win widespread support for proposing a broad ban on Muslims, but face political trouble for proposing the same ban for Christians and Jews may be troubling, but it may not be the biggest problem with the campaign’s “safe havens” proposal.
The United States does not control the flow of refugees from areas where violence and war has forced people to migrate, said Westy Egmont, a clinical associate professor at Boston College who studies immigration and refugee resettlement. It can sometimes have a diplomatic role in negotiating the flow of peoples, or incentivize countries to take certain groups, but typically the countries that are geographically proximate to conflict areas make decisions about where people go. The United States would not typically play the kind of role in refugee management and resettlement that Pence and Trump are suggesting, and it’s unclear whether it could find the partners necessary to establish safe havens, or if they would attempt to carve them out by force of arms in active conflict zones.
Another problem with the country-based ban, said Egmont, is that it hits the persecuted along with their persecutors. “Does it work to identify countries and say that we should have a hard ban on people coming from those countries? No, obviously not, because those countries are where persecution is the worst,” he said. It’s also difficult to delineate which countries the ban would apply to; as Egmont pointed out, all countries, including the United States, have harbored or could potentially harbor terrorists. “It becomes a political definition rather than a legal practical definition,” he said.