President Trump said persecuted Christians would be treated as a priority as the White House implements major changes in the U.S. refugee program and immigration policy.
Trump said Syrian Christians seeking refugee status in the U.S. have been treated unfairly in contrast to Syrian Muslims in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody on Friday.
“The refugee program, or the refugee changes you’re looking to make. As it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority here?” Brody asked.
“Yes,” Trump replied.
“They’ve been horribly treated,” the president continued. “Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? 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.”
Trump signed an executive order Friday shutting down the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and temporarily banning all immigrants from seven Muslim countries. The order, intended to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, singled out Syrian refugees as “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
When the refugee program resumes, the executive order calls for changes 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.”
In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. admitted a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees, according to the Pew Research Center. Of those, 99% were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. Syria’s population is 87% Muslim and 10% Christian, according to the CIA World Factbook.
In all, the U.S. admitted a record total of 38,901 Muslim refugees compared with 37,521 Christians in fiscal year 2016, according to the Pew study.
Critics have called Trump’s new policy a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and legal challenges to the order are likely. But any such lawsuits will face a major hurdle: The executive order does not identify the countries facing an immigration ban based on religion. Of the seven nations on the list, three of them — Iran, Sudan and Syria — are listed as state sponsors of terrorism by the State Department. The other four — Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — are designated “terrorist safe havens.”