President Trump said he’s righting a wrong in ordering his administration to prioritize refugee applications from Christian minorities in Muslim countries Friday, but critics are declaring the move unfair and “un-American.” Let’s look at what the numbers have to say about the way Christian refugees were treated under President Obama.
The country admitted about the same number of Christian refugees as Muslim refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, according to Pew Research Center figures cited by The New York Times in an effort to refute Trump’s statement. About 38,000 Christian refugees were admitted compared to about 39,000 Muslims.
But this figure is a sum total of refugees worldwide, when Trump was clearly referring to specific Christian minority populations in the Middle East. The way it’s deployed in The New York Times report is incredibly misleading and entirely misses the point.
Previous administrations made it “almost impossible” for Syrian Christian refugees to gain admission, Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network Friday, although they were “horribly treated” in their country.
“If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible,” he said. “I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”
The numbers regarding refugees from Syria in particular actually bolster Trump’s case. Obama admitted more than 12,000 Muslim refugees from Syria in Fiscal Year 2016, but fewer than 100 Christian refugees from the same country. Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Syria, some 2.2 million people. Yet they only made up about one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted that year.
Elliot Abrams tackles one explanation for the disproportionate numbers in a November opinion piece published by Newsweek, titled “The U.S. Bars Christians, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria.” While some argue the dramatically low numbers are because Syrian Christians aren’t fleeing the country, or aren’t applying to move to the U.S., Abrams offers a simpler answer: “In effect, we make it almost impossible for Christian refugees to get here.”
“Is the title of this column an overstatement, suggesting that the United States ‘bars’ Christian refugees from Syria?” he writes. “Sure, in that we do not and could not legally ban Christian refugees any more than we could or should bar Muslim refugees. But when you have been running a refugee program for years, and you have accepted 10,612 Sunni refugees and 56 Christians, and it is obvious why and obvious how to fix it, and nothing is done to fix it—well, the results speak more loudly than speeches, laws, intentions or excuses.”
Another interesting fact The New York Times omitted from the Pew report is that 2016 was a record year for Muslims admitted into the country. Nearly half of the 85,000 refugees admitted into the country in fiscal year 2016 were Muslims, Pew reported, and half of those Muslims came from just two countries, one of which was Syria.
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