After the Paris attacks, 81 members of Congress have cosponsored legislation (H.R. 3314) to halt the entire U.S. refugee program. In defending his legislation on the floor, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who introduced the bill, claimed that “less than 4% of the UN resettled refugees are Christian,” implying his bill won’t hurt many Christians. But this is false. Over the last 12 years, the U.S. has admitted more Christian refugees than Muslim refugees. Any effort to ban refugees would hurt members of all faiths.
The U.S. has admitted 332,000 Christian refugees since 2004, the first full fiscal year that the U.S. State Department has made available on its website. The U.S. has admitted more than 100,000 fewer Muslims (227,000). Taking into account the 152,000 refugees of other faiths, non-Muslim refugees constituted 67 percent of the total number since 2004. If we looked further back to refugee waves from Vietnam, Cuba, and the Soviet Union, the ratio would be even more skewed away from Muslim refugees. The refugee program clearly does not exclude any particular religion.
The Obama administration has not altered this percentage. From 2010 to 2015—the six fiscal years that President Obama has set the refugee limits for each region of the world—non-Muslim refugees constituted two-thirds of the flow, slightly more than President Bush’s final six years. Muslim refugee immigration barely changed at all, increasing slightly from 30.2 to 32 percent.
President Obama has even accepted more Christian refugees each year than President Bush did. While the share of Christians has decreased slightly under President Obama’s six years (by 3.5 percent), the absolute number has grown by nearly 17,000 over President Bush’s final six years. Neither president has excluded Christian refugees or refugees of any other religion.
Some members of Congress have expressed particular concern about refugees from so-called “Muslim” countries, implying that such refugees must all be Muslims. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), for example, issued a press release this week entitled “U.S. Issued 680,000 Green Cards to Migrants From Muslim Nations Over the Last 5 Years.” He writes, “Refugee and asylee admissions from Iraq, Somalia, and Iran alone contributed 124,000.”
But this is highly misleading. Countries with majority Muslim populations contain persecuted people of other religions as well. Since 2004, a majority of refugees from Iran, for example, were Christians, and a whopping 96 percent were not Muslims. Overall, 35 percent of all refugees from Muslim-majority countries since 2004 have not been Muslim.
The U.S. is already focusing on minority religions in the Middle East. More than 80 percent of Iraqis who had received a refugee designation from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees by 2007 were Muslims. Yet nearly 40 percent of the Iraqi refugees resettled in the U.S. since 2004 are not. The Christian share of resettled Iraqis—35 percent—was more than double the share of U.N.-designated Christian refugees from Iraq.
Very few nation-states are entirely ethnically, culturally, and religiously homogeneous. Ignoring the diversity of countries’ populations leads to bad policy. We cannot have an informed debate about immigration and refugee resettlement based on false assumptions. The fact is that shutting down the refugee program would harm refugees of all religions, not just Muslims.
Nor should we react to these facts by accepting only refugees of certain faiths. Not only would this requirement be virtually impossible to implement (who is to say who is a “real” Christian?), it would also be a disastrous foreign policy move. Excluding Muslim refugees—who the Islamic State deems “apostates” and traitors—is exactly what the Islamic State wants.
The Islamic State’s stated agenda is to turn the West against all Muslims and drive them back to its caliphate. Indeed, the idea that the U.S. hates Muslims is a central message of ISIS’s most effective propaganda. If the U.S. announces that it will screen out Muslim refugees, it would aid ISIS’s narrative and bring new recruits to its army.
Let’s not aid the enemies of freedom. We should continue to accept refugees, regardless of their faith, as long as they reject ISIS and pledge their support for freedom of religion. Refugees who are willing to risk their lives to condemn ISIS would benefit America and aid in its fight against evil.