Magazine article The Humanist

Finding Trump's Refugee Policy: Will Christians Be Prioritized?

Magazine article The Humanist

Finding Trump's Refugee Policy: Will Christians Be Prioritized?

Article excerpt

Over the last weekend of January, Donald Trump screened his very first movie at the White House Family Theater: Finding Dory. He sat in the bright red presidents armchair watching an animated story about a forgetful Australian fish who, with the help of her underwater friends, reunites with her parents by illegally entering the United States by way of Morro Bay, California.

Meanwhile, outside the theater protesters gathered across the country at major US airports.

On January 27, 2017, Trump issued his executive order, "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States." The order effectively banned the entrance of non-US citizens from seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. Refugees, too, were banned for a 120-day period. Trumps order caused immediate national uproar, resulting in weekend chaos and confusion as international travelers were detained at US checkpoints or their flights were diverted out of the United States. Regarding the reinstatement of the Refugee Admissions Program after 120 days, the order made a peculiar note:

   [T]he Secretary of State, in consultation
   with the Secretary of Homeland
   Security, is further directed to
   make changes, to the extent permitted
   by law, to prioritize refugee
   claims made by individuals on the
   basis of religious-based persecution,
   provided that the religion of
   the individual is a minority religion
   in the individual's country
   of nationality. Where necessary
   and appropriate, the Secretaries
   of State and Homeland Security
   shall recommend legislation to the
   President that would assist with
   such prioritization.

While the order itself did not suggest prioritization of Christian refugees, it goes without saying that Christianity is a minority religion in all seven of the majority-Muslim countries listed for exclusion from travel. In response to concerns about religious discrimination in his executive order, Trump stated, "If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair--everybody was persecuted, in all fairness--but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them."

After a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal court issued an emergency stay temporarily prohibiting the enforcement of the executive order. "There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations such to the January 27, 2017, executive order," District Court Judge Ann Donnelly wrote in her order granting the stay.

Judge Donnelly's orders echo a history of protecting refugees under international law. While refugees have arguably existed for as long as human civilization, an international commitment to protecting the rights of refugees is relatively recent. Following the end of World War II, which displaced millions throughout Europe, there came a need for international recognition and cooperation for the rights of refugees. This was first addressed in Article Fourteen of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." The article prompted the establishment of the High Commissioner for Refugees in 1949, headed by the United States. It also led to the birth of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees two years later.

The convention takes an unequivocal stance on the rights of persons seeking asylum in other countries and tasks the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with enforcing it. More significantly, it explicitly defines the refugee: one who is outside his or her country of origin and cannot return for fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. …

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