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  • Article: A Ban on Refugees Would Shut Out More Christians than Muslims. By David Bier

    A Ban on Refugees Would Shut Out More Christians than Muslims


    August 01, 2016

    When Secretary of State John Kerry promised to respond more vigorously to the worldwide refugee crisis last year, more than 85 members of Congress signed onto a bill to shut down the entire refugee program. Texas Congressman Brian Babin, the bill’s sponsor, explained their view: “The most persecuted religious minority in the world have been Christians, and of these 70,000, soon to be 100,000 per year coming in from the Middle East, less than four percent are Christian.”

    Rep. Babin is right to be concerned for Christian refugees, but his facts about the refugee program are quite wrong. A majority of the 70,000 refugees that the United States accepted last year were from areas other than the Middle East. The U.S. refugee program has not only accepted a higher percentage of Christians than he stated, it has actually accepted more Christians than Muslims, even after the crisis in Syria and President Obama’s changes at the beginning of this year.

    Shutting Down the Refugee Program Would Injure People of All Faiths

    Because most Syrian refugees are Muslim, and Syria has received the bulk of the attention recently, many people have come to associate the refugee program exclusively with the Middle East and Muslims.

    But the reality is that the majority of refugees come from outside the Middle East. More than 60 percent of refugees come from areas that are not the “Near East” or “South Asia,” according to data from the State Department. As can be seen below, this share is down from 2014.

    Figure 1: Refugees in U.S. Refugee Program by Region (FY 2014-2016)

    Source: State Department

    It’s also incorrect to associate the refugee program primarily with Muslims. The State Department data show that the majority of the refugees admitted under the U.S. refugee program so far this year subscribe to religions other than Islam. The share of Muslims has steadily risen as the refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria has worsened, but not at the expense of Christians, whose share has remained level since 2014.

    Figure 2: Refugees in the U.S. Refugee Program by Religion (FY 2012-2014)

    Source: State Department

    President Obama has also not overseen any dramatic changes to the religious makeup of the refugee program compared to his predecessor. In the years available, the Bush administration admitted a slightly higher share of Christians and slightly lower share of Muslims.* Other religions saw the largest percentage increase during the Obama years (5.6 percent), but overall the makeup is still similarly divided.

    Figure 3: Refugees in the U.S. Refugee Program by Religion Under the Last Two Administrations*

    Source: State Department

    The lower share of Christian refugees, though still larger than for other religions, could create the misleading impression that Christians have done somewhat worse in recent years. This is decidedly not the case.

    In absolute terms, significantly more refugees of all faiths, including Christians, were accepted during President Obama’s final seven years than during his predecessor’s final seven years (data is unavailable before January 2003).* In fact, 27,000 more Christians escaped persecution under the current administration.

    Figure 4: Refugees in U.S. Refugee Program By Religion Under the Last Two Administrations

    Source: State Department

    Adherents of religions other than Islam compose a substantial portion of the refugee flows even from majority Muslim countries. While most of the refugees admitted from these nations are Muslim, about a third are not.

    The refugee program admits large numbers of non-Muslims from areas in which they are the minority, far in excess to their proportion of the populations (Figure 5). More than 80,000 Christians escaped persecution in Muslim majority countries since January 2003. 

    Figure 5: Muslim and Non-Muslim Refugees in the U.S. Refugee Program from Majority Muslim Countries

    Sources: State Department, CIA World Factbook

    Banning refugees — from any area in the world — would hurt members of many faiths. The question for congressmen like Rep. Babin is whether they should allow their fears over Muslims to trump their compassion for Christians. Considering that no Muslim refugee has ever successfully carried out a deadly attack in the United States in the history of the modern refugee program, we ought to overcome those fears. The United States should do more to provide safety for Christian refugees but that does not require — nor should it prompt — doing less to help Muslim and other non-Christian refugees.

    *FY 2009’s refugee allocation was apportioned under President Bush.

    This post appeared on The Foundation for Economic Education. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    David Bier David Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center. He is an expert on visa reform, border security, and interior enforcement. From 2013 to 2015, he drafted immigration legislation as senior policy advisor for Congressman Raúl Labrador, a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Previously, Mr. Bier was an immigration policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I don't want to shut down the refugee program either, but I don't think that is going to be given serious consideration unless we have a series of horrific terrorist attacks in the United States. At the moment, that is a straw man issue. The issue that is significant now, is being about to do background checks on refugees. What do you propose to do about the fact that we can't do background checks on people from certain parts of the world? Not long ago the FBI director and the DHS secretary said that they couldn't do background checks on Syrian refugees. Has that changed? If it has, I haven't heard about it.

      The Administration has said that the background checks take two years and are the most thorough checks we have every done. If the FBI director and the DHS secretary are telling the truth, there is no information about Syrian refugees that can be checked. So what benefit is there from spending a long time doing background checks on Syrian refugees? Do you have a solution you can propose?
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