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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Whither the Syrian Christian Refugees?

    As the Syrian city of Aleppo falls under government control, the question of Syrian refugees has become even more urgent. Forces loyal to the government are summarily murdering civilians, and even the wounded cannot be evacuated due to government (and Russian) military action. Despite heartbreaking "goodbye messages" from civilians trapped in the conflict zone, I have little expectation that the world will do much to help. We have ignored genocides again and again, so why should we expect anything different here?
    Which is easier to explain: The absence of Christian refugees, or the absence of Christian charity?
    Accepting Syrian refugees into the United States has also been controversial. Donald Trump called them "a great Trojan Horse." I suppose the same could be said of the Jews fleeing Hitler on the ship St. Louis, which reached our shores but was refused permission to land. I am sure many of those men, women, and children were secret Bolsheviks plotting a Communist takeover. Lucky for us, they were rejected and returned to Europe, where over 250 of them perished in the Holocaust.

    One gripe raised by those opposing the admission of Syrian refugees is that the refugees are disproportionately Muslim. In a recent concurring opinion, Judge Manion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, notes the mysterious absence of Christians from the pool of Syrian refugees arriving in the United States. See Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center v. DHS, 16-1840 (7th 2016). J. Manion writes:

    I write separately for a… critical reason, which is [to express] my concern about the apparent lack of Syrian Christians as a part of immigrants from that country…. It is well-documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war-torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian…. [Of] the nearly 11,000 refugees admitted by mid-September, only 56 were Christian. To date, there has not been a good explanation for this perplexing discrepancy.

    Judge Manion's observation is supported by a recent report from the Pew Research Center, which found that in FY 2016:

    [R]efugee status was given to 12,587 Syrians. Nearly all of them (99%) were Muslim and less than 1% were Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.

    The most accurate data I have found about Syrian refugees essentially lines up with the findings of Judge Manion and Pew: Of 12,541 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. in FY 2016, between 0.5 and 1% self-identified as Christian. It is a bit less clear how many Christians lived in Syria prior to the current war. Estimates range from 5.1% (Pew) to 10% (CIA). But no matter how you slice it, it's clear that the Syrian refugees entering the U.S. are not representative of the country's population--fewer Christians than expected are coming to our country as refugees. So what's going on here?

    First, here is the conclusion that I don't accept--the one pushed by people opposed to Muslim immigration--that the Obama Administration is deliberately favoring Muslims over non-Muslims. I don't support this conclusion because, while a disproportionate majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim, the majority of refugees overall (from all countries), are not Muslim. In FY 2016, we admitted 38,901 Muslim refugees and 37,521 Christian refugees (out of a total of 84,995 refugees). In other words, in FY 2016, about 46% of refugees admitted to the U.S. were Muslim; 44% were Christian. (This was the first year of the Obama Administration where more Muslims than Christians were admitted as refugees).

    A more plausible explanation for the absence of Syrian Christians was proposed by Jonathan Witt, an Evangelical writer and activist, and an Obama critic. Basically, he believes that Muslims are more likely than Christians to end up in refugee camps, and since refugees are generally selected for resettlement from the camps, Christians are disproportionately left out. This part sounds logical, but (to me at least) Mr. Witt takes his argument a bit too far:

    As bad off as the Muslim refugees are, they aren’t without politically well-connected advocates in the Middle East. Many Muslim powerbrokers are happy to see Europe and America seeded with Muslim immigrants, and would surely condemn any U.S. action that appeared to prefer Christian over Muslim refugees, even if the effort were completely justified. By and large, they support Muslim immigration to the West and have little interest in seeing Christian refugees filling up any spaces that might have been filled by Muslim refugees.
    The deck, in other words, is heavily stacked against the Christian refugees. The White House has been utterly feckless before the Muslim power structure in the Middle East that is doing the stacking, and has tried to sell that fecklessness to the American people as a bold stand for a religion-blind treatment of potential refugees —religion tests are un-American! It’s a smokescreen.

    Here, he's lost me. This conspiracy-minded nonsense might be more convincing if there were some evidence for it (and remember, FY 2016 was the first year of the Obama Administration where we resettled more Muslim than Christian refugees). The prosaic arguments may be less interesting, but they have the vitue of being more likely.

    I have a few of my own theories as well. For one thing--and maybe this ties in with the first part of Mr. Witt's thesis--Syrian Christians were somewhat better off than Syrian Muslims. If they have more resources, maybe they were able to avoid the refugee camps by leaving in a more orderly way and by finding (and paying for) alternative housing. Also, Syrian Christians are generally not being targeted by the Assad regime. Indeed, in view of the threats they face from extremists, Syrian Christians are more likely to support the government--not because they have much affection for Bashar Assad, but because the alternative is even worse.

    So there very well may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of Christians among Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S. But because the Administration has not explained the anomaly, we are (as usual) left with an information void. And that void is being filled by speculation from fringe writers like Mr. Witt, but also by federal court judges, like Judge Manion. The solution should be obvious: Those involved in the refugee resettlement effort should tell us what's going on. This would help satisfy many critics and it will help protect the refugee program going forward.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: obama, refugees, syria Add / Edit Tags
  2. Arguing with Idiots–or–Why We Still Need HIAS

    For some reason, the Washington Jewish Week–the local Jewish newspaper where I live–found me, and decided I needed a subscription. So for the last few months, I’ve been receiving the paper free of charge (yeh, yeh – insert Jewish joke here).

    At first, I was pleased, as I thought it would be good to learn more local Jewish news. But as I read more, I became less thrilled. If the WJW’s goal is to make Jews like me feel part of a larger community, it has failed. The paper might be fine for those Jews (a minority in DC) who oppose President Obama at all costs, support Israeli occupation of the West Bank for all eternity, and who generally don’t like Muslims. But for the majority of us, the–dare I say it–liberal Jews, the paper only helps alienate us from the broader community.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading points of view that differ from my own–when they are well-reasoned and based on facts. But that’s not the WJW.

    The editorial that has most recently raised my hackles is basically a hit piece against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

    With its mission accomplished, HIAS employees can finally relax.

    As you may know, HIAS was founded in the late 19th century to help Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. Over the years, the organization has changed to reflect changing needs. It helped Jewish refugees during and after the two World Wars. Later, it helped thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Soviet Block, Ethiopia, Iran, and other countries. HIAS also helped eliminate the discriminatory immigration quota system in the U.S. that–among other things–blocked many Jews from escaping the Holocaust. HIAS also assisted Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. As the number of Jewish refugees has (thankfully) fallen, HIAS’s mission has evolved. These days, most of its work has little to do with helping Jewish refugees. And that’s where the WJW editorial comes in.

    In the editorial, called HIAS in search of a mission, the WJW argues that HIAS has outlived its usefulness. Given that there are “virtually no more Jewish refugees,” the paper asks, “Is there still a need for HIAS?” You can guess the paper’s answer:

    [It] takes a certain maturity, and healthy doses of self-confidence and self-awareness for an organization to declare success and move on. Very few organizations are able to do that. Instead, they get caught up in their own stories and start believing their own PR, and view themselves as indispensable societal contributors.

    HIAS has had its successes. It served well for close to a century as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Now its leadership acknowledges that the organization’s original mission is no longer necessary. Rather than search for a new mission in order to justify its continued existence, perhaps it would be better for HIAS to consider an orderly sunset.
    So HIAS’s leaders are not mature or self aware? They are caught up in their own PR? How insulting. Oh, and here’s a good one: “HIAS has had its successes.” Talk about minimizing the organization’s accomplishments. Since its inception, HIAS has helped approximately 4.5 million people, in big ways and small. It has saved countless lives.

    But I suppose it’s a fair question: Is HIAS still relevant? Here are some facts that were conveniently left out of the WJW editorial: (1) In partnership with Israeli NGOs, HIAS provides trauma counseling and social services to thousands of refugees from Darfur, including many children; (2) From a base in Kenya, HIAS provides resettlement services and social services to hundreds of refugees from East Africa–aside from the UN, HIAS is the only NGO providing these services in the region; (3) It is one of only a few NGOs in Jordan providing assistance to refugees from the Syrian civil war; (4) In the U.S., HIAS provides legal assistance to victims of torture, including those who are detained; (5) It provides resettlement assistance to refugees all across the United States; (6) HIAS works to help pass meaningful immigration reform; (7) HIAS provides an outlet for hundred of young Jews to engage in public service and, in the process, brings them closer to their own Jewish community. And there is much more, as anyone who cares to review HIAS’s programs can easily see. So does WJW think these services are no longer needed, or that HIAS is not the right organization to provide them? Or–as I suspect–did the editors at WJW not know that HIAS provides these services because they didn’t bother to learn what the organization does before they decided to trash it?

    Finally, since HIAS’s mission was originally to help Jews, and since Jews are generally not in need of this type of assistance, shouldn’t HIAS just close down? Well, should Catholic Charities only help Catholics? Should Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services only help Lutherans? Should the Tahirih Justice Center only help Baha’is? You get the point. The religious-based NGOs are an expression of their members’ religious convictions. Just as these groups help refugees (and many others) as an an expression of their faith, so too, HIAS helps refugees–all refugees–as an expression of our Jewish faith. In Judaism, it’s called Tikkun HaOlam–repair of the world–and to limit Tikkun to assisting only Jews is mean spirited, short-sighted, and anti-Jewish.

    So here’s a message for the good folks at WJW: Maybe its time to exercise some self awareness of your own, and recognize that your paper suffers from a lack of intellectual honesty. It takes maturity and self confidence to look at the world as it is, and to consider points of view other than your own. And if you can’t adapt to the needs of the Jewish community, maybe its time for an orderly sunset. Or–at the very least–please cancel my subscription because I am no longer interested in what you have to say.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:

    Updated 08-06-2013 at 11:56 AM by JDzubow

    Tags: hias, refugees Add / Edit Tags
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