Refugees come to the United States through several legal channels, and this post will focus on only the Refugee Resettlement Program. The Refugee Resettlement Program has its own issues, and is a high-profile element of our immigration policy. We have discussed this before at Ricochet, and it is time for an update. I am posting here to provide some background on Refugee Resettlement, to specifically discuss refugees from Syria, to comment on the program under the Obama Administration, and to document that @JamesOfEngland owes me a beer the next time we cross paths at a meetup.
The Refugee Resettlement Program brought 572,924 refugees to the United States during the Obama Administration (Feb 2, 2009 through Feb 1, 2017). In recent discussions, religion was an issue, so here are some highlights:
- 196,900 were Christians (34%)
- 160,622 were Muslims (28%)
- 47,679 were Hindu (8.3%)
- 38,781 were Buddhist (6.8%)
- 8,381 were categorized as “no religion” (1.5%)
- 249 were Atheist
The Refugee Resettlement Program is operated by the State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. They provide an on-line database, which is the source of the numbers above. Links are in the comments.
I think it is good for the United States to maintain the Refugee Resettlement Program. It came to my attention during the campaign of 2012, when Christian bloggers started complaining that Team Obama was biased against Christians in the refugees that were admitted through the program. I wondered about that, and I did a little digging. The source of the complaints was Syria and Iraq.
Barack H. Obama campaigned in 2008 on an “End the Wars” theme. He said that Iraq and Afghanistan were failures of Team Bush and that America should get out of the Middle East where we are not wanted. We should drop our “imperialist colonizing” ventures and let the “peace-loving peoples” sort out their future “without American meddling.” Of course, by that time the Bush “Surge” had rendered Iraq as a stable, if restive place, trying to sort out their new government in the relative calm of a Pax Americana.
Obama kicked the props out from supporting our friends and allies in Iraq. He pulled out at the earliest possible pretense, counting on the absence of American power to be a positive measure that would allow the Iraqis to figure out how to cooperate without the necessity of keeping good relations with the Americans. He really does believe that American presence makes things worse and not better. He is ideologically blinded and blames America for many of the world’s problems. He was wrong, and millions of Middle Eastern people have suffered the consequences.
Of course, the first thing that happened after the Obama pullout was a round of quiet reprisals. I say “quiet” because pro-Obama western media ignored it when extremists assassinated some minor politicians in Iraq who had cooperated with the Americans.
Obama had famously gone to Cairo to apologize for America being American, and promised not to be American any more. I cannot connect all those dots here, but Obama contributed to the Arab Spring of early 2011, when an uprising in Tunisia spread to Egypt and then caught fire in a number of Arab countries. Most Americans know nothing more than what happened in Egypt and Libya. Ricochet spent a lot of energy discussing Libya, Quaddaffi, Benghazi and Hillary, so there is no need to go there just now.
Arab Spring came to Syria, mid-summer 2011
The dramatic events in Cairo were riveting across the world. The Assad regime decided that the best way to prevent an uprising in Syria was to double up on jackbooted thuggery to keep order. Bashir Assad underestimated the power of the internet to spread sedition, and underestimated the willingness of ordinary Syrians to stand up to the Baathist regime after many years of quiet.
By late 2011 there were at least five different militia groups fighting against the Assad regime and fighting each other. A torrent of displaced persons resulted as all sorts of Syrians were uprooted by war. Christians were particularly hard hit, because they were targeted by the anti-government forces of at least three militias.
One of the main new surprises of the multiparty civil war in Syria was the rapid rise of ISIS, who were overrunning northern Iraq and sending support to their friends across the border. Obama’s pullout in Iraq made the revolt in Syria much worse. Things went really bad really quick. Millions of Syrians left their homes. Many moved to safer places within Syria. Many fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Some made their way to Europe.
American Refugee Program
Obama spoke in the fall of 2012 and promised that America would take in more refugees from Syria. He spoke of “tens of thousands.” There was no corresponding change in the Refugee Resettlement Program; evidently no order came from the White House and the State Department did not pay any attention to what Obama had said.
Refugees kept pouring in to Europe. Europeans criticized America for not helping. Since the Europeans are all Obama fans (or at least the ones that were in power in 2012-2014), they did not blame Obama. But the “refugee crisis” kept growing. In September, 2013, Obama spoke again, and this time made a big splash about his promise to take in “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees.
We spoke about this several times at Ricochet. One of our conversations occurred shortly after Obama’s speech in September of 2012. I predicted that Team Obama would favor Muslim refugees over Christian refugees. I knew nothing about State Department policy; I simply distrusted Team Obama. James of England also was uninformed about State Department policy, and he thought I was too harsh in my judgement of Team Obama. Since Christians were overrepresented in the population of refugees, James O.E. figured that they would at least be admitted at the ratio of their pre-war percentage of the Syrian population. In our ignorance of State Department policy, we made a bet. James stated the wager:
“If Christians are over-represented in the numbers, but Christians and Kurds are in the minority, we call it even. If they’re a majority, you buy drinks. If they’re underrepresented, I buy drinks.”
There was a lot of talk about refugees, but whether through disinterest, bureaucratic inertia, or incompetence, the Refugee Resettlement Program was extremely slow to react. Their performance was miserable. A year later, after Christian groups made some noise about the paltry number of Christians being admitted through the Refugee Resettlement, and some Republican officeholders made some noise about anti-Christian bias at the State Department. Their performance in this regard was so awful that I looked into it to see how the State Department defended themselves. They were saying that it was a matter of policy and not bias.
State Department policy
The State Department has been very concerned about America’s image in the Muslim world for a long time. State Department professionals in the Clinton Administration had supported the intervention in Bosnia, because in that case we were defending Muslims against depredations by Christian Serbs. The thinking was that it would help America establish credibility in the Muslim world and establish our assertion that America really does care about persecuted minorities, whether or not they happen to be Christian. State Department officials were leery of anything that could be portrayed by the Wahhabi Imams as “Crusader” activities, and they took steps to avoid favoring Christians over Muslims in several other contexts besides the refugees program.
One thing they did was to establish some bureaucratic rules and policies that would be “neutral” about oppression. They said that, to qualify as an “oppressed religious minority,” there had to be official government policies or track records of official government persecution by the country in question. So if a Christian lives in some country where Christianity is legal, but gets beaten by a Muslim mob and run out of town, so long as there is no official government persecution, then that would not qualify that Christian for the Refugee Resettlement Program. (Other helps were sometimes available for these sorts of victims, mostly involving charitable organizations.)
It is for this reason that Christian refugees from Syria got no respect from our Refugee Resettlement Program. Christians are a second-class but important element of the Baath coalition in Syria. Since Assad’s Baath Party government does not persecute Christians, the fact that Christians in Syria are persecuted by Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and ISIS (in increasing order of bloodthirstiness) does not count. That does not mean that Christians are not persecuted; they are just suffering from persecution at the hands of the Islamicist militias and not from their government.
The current United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is Flippo Grandi. The State Department outsources most of the selection of refugees for admittance to the Refugee Resettlement Program to his office. The State Department contracts with the United Nations for this, primarily because it is the United Nations that has people on the ground in the areas where the refugees are.
I had said that I had a dim view of the UNHCR just as bad as my dim view of Team Obama at the State Department. James of E. said that I was being uncharitable. It turns out that James is mostly right in his defense of those folk. Later, about a year ago, I spoke with a Lutheran Refugee Resettlement person who spoke well of the UNHCR staff.
Many Syrian refugees are housed in refugee camps that are either established by or monitored by UNHCR. UNHCR provides security for some camps and sanitation for some camps. As you might imagine, refugee camps are highly variable as to the quality of life that can be achieved there. Some of the camps are quite dangerous for Christians, and Christians commonly find other places to live, many times with extended families or Christian parishes who shelter them. All refugees, whether living in the camps or not, can enroll with UNHCR and also apply for admission into the American Refugee Resettlement Program through UNHCR.
We discussed reasons why UNHCR staff might prefer to send Muslims to America in preference over Christians. This was before we learned about the State Department policy that said that Christians from Syria typically did not qualify.
Team Obama report on Syrian Refugees
In the period from Jan 1, 2009 through December 31, 2013, the Refugee Resettlement Program brought in 158 refugees from Syria. Of these, 20 were Christian, so 13 percent, just a little more than the background population of Syrians before the revolution began (the CIA had reported Syria as approximately 11.5 percent Christian in 2010). This is a paltry number when you consider that it covers a fifteen-month period after Obama had spoken of taking in “tens of thousands” of Syrian refugees (in the context of over three million refugees at the time).
Then in the period from January 1, 2014, through February 1, 2017, the Refugee Resettlement Program brought in 17,671 refugees from Syria. Of these, 156 were Christians, so 0.9 percent (yes, less than one percent).
James, you owe me a beer.
There was some talk over the past year about changes to State Department policy, but as near as I can tell no change actually happened. I figure this is just due to bureaucratic inertia rather than actual malice. But it happens like that because the people in charge are more concerned about political optics than they are concerned about refugees or American security.
I am not happy to report this result, when I consider the plight of the Syrian refugees. But, then again, bringing them to America is perhaps not in their best interest, nor ours.