Cotton Column on the Religious Persecution Relief Act
The Islamic State is seeking to eradicate Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandeans, Jews, and other religious groups it sees as apostates and infidels. Just six months ago, a 12-year-old boy stood before a crowd in a Syrian village not far from Aleppo. This boy was a Christian, and standing above him were Islamic State terrorists holding knives. In the crowd was the boy’s father, a Christian minister. Methodically, the terrorists began cutting off the young boy’s fingers. Amidst his screams, they turned to the minister, his father. If he renounced his faith and, in their terms, “returned to Islam,” the boy’s suffering would stop.
But they didn’t stop. Those terrorists killed the boy, killed his father, and killed two other Christians solely over the faith they professed. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow this persecution to continue. We must not only recognize what’s happening as genocide, but also take action to relieve it by helping these religious minorities escape.
That is why I’ve introduced the Religious Persecution Relief Act, legislation that would grant religious minorities fleeing persecution at the hands of ISIS and other groups in Syria priority status so they can apply directly to the U.S. resettlement program without going through the U.N. And it will set aside 10,000 resettlement slots annually that must be devoted to religious minorities.
It is important to note that those who apply for P-2 status will be subject to the same security vetting process as all other refugee applicants. And it is my strong position that the United States must work with known religious leaders in the region and pursue other proven vetting methods to ensure that those who enter this country are not threats to the security of the American people.
Extending a hand to help persecuted people of faith in this manner is not a new idea. In 1989, the late Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, crafted what has been called the Lautenberg Amendment, which granted P-2 priority status to Soviet Jewry, Vietnamese nationals, and others minorities seeking refuge. In 2004, the late Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, expanded the Lautenberg Amendment to cover religious minorities fleeing the oppression of the ayatollahs in Iran. And in 2007, the late Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, passed a bill that granted priority status to certain Iraqi religious minority members.
This bill follows this tradition of the Senate and our country. Among the first Americans were pilgrims from religious persecution in the Old World. That’s one reason we have a long tradition of defending religious minorities, here and around the world.
I am hopeful this bill will soon come up for consideration and that it will pass. Because each day will bring another Christian child who is tortured and another minister crucified. Faith communities in the Middle East are slowly being strangled out of existence.
While the United States cannot save all those who are suffering from religious persecution, when the persecutors are rabid terrorists who want to kill Americans and we have the means not only to defeat those terrorists, but also to protect the innocent, we ought to act. And we certainly have an obligation to stop the discrimination in our own refugee process that unfairly blocks Christians and other religious minorities from seeking safety in the United States.