UNITED STATES: USCIRF Urges Continued Refugee Resettlement

Feb 8, 2017

February 8, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urges the U.S. government to continue its efforts to resettle refugees fleeing conflict and persecution. 

For more than 30 years, the United States has resettled refugees from around the world, admitting in recent years about 70,000 annually, and the Obama Administration committed to admitting 110,000 in the current fiscal year that ends on September 30, 2017.  A January 27, 2017 executive order, however, suspended refugee resettlement for 120 days and suspended indefinitely the resettlement of Syrians. The order also capped this fiscal year’s resettlement, when it resumes, at 50,000. USCIRF recommends the President rescind the order and address the question of refugees in a judicious and efficacious way.

A federal district court ruling on February 3, 2017 stayed the executive order. The Trump Administration is appealing this ruling.   

“With an unprecedented number of refugees worldwide, and more displaced every day, this is not the time to stop U.S. resettlement or halve the number resettled this year,” said USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J.  “Refugees fleeing religious persecution and terror are not our enemies.  Resettlement is an essential way for the United States to aid and protect those fleeing persecution and terror.”

The executive order allows for case-by-case exceptions during the 120-day suspension, including for religious minorities facing religious persecution. However, because the executive order bars from entry nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, it is unclear whether religious minorities from those nations can be considered.  

The order also directs that the resumed refugee program prioritize religious persecution claims, “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” However, Syrian religious minorities would be ineligible because their resettlement is indefinitely banned. The executive order also does not take into account the fact that members of religious majorities can suffer severe persecution on the basis of their religion or belief (as is the case for groups including Iraqi Shi’a Muslims—whom the U.S. government has determined are facing genocide at the hands of ISIL—dissenting Sunni Muslims in Syria, or dissenting Shi’a Muslims in Iran).  

“The United States should consider as refugees all those who are persecuted based on their religious beliefs or affiliation, with prioritization based on vulnerability and the severity of persecution,” said Chair Reese.

To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-523-3258