March 19, 2018
Imagine having two four-year-old twin daughters. You and your wife are desperately trying to get them out of Iran, where your faith could mean their torture, captivity, or murder. Finally, you get the news you've been praying for: the United States has handpicked your family to come to America. But somewhere in the process, things go horribly wrong. Your wife and daughters are admitted. You aren't. Months pass, and you desperately try to join them. Then, out of nowhere, you get a letter from U.S. officials: you've been rejected, and there is no appeal.
That's the nightmare one father is wishing he could wake up from. But unfortunately for him and 86 other refugees stuck in Austria, this is the terrible reality they're facing. Trapped between two worlds -- a homeland they aren't safe in and a refuge that won't accept them -- these religious minorities are forced to live out their days in what was supposed to be a temporary stop on the way to resettlement. Now, weeks into the realization that they might not be reunited with their families, they're forced to accept the fact that they might be shipped back to Iran, where the punishment for being a religious minority is inhumane, to say the least.
Nina Shea, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute and longtime activist for the persecuted church, is pleading with the Trump administration to step in and intervene. Even Shea, who's an expert on refugee policy, can't understand how these Christians and other minorities would have been barred from the U.S. when 99 percent of the refugees invited to America under the same legislation made it through. Just last year, she points out, "800 others were admitted during 2017 through this program, as evidence that there is no blanket denial policy."
She suspects it has something to do with the security roadblocks thrown up by the last administration. "In late 2016, the Obama administration instituted a new, secret security layer. (Both the State Department and HIAS insist that these rejections aren't related to President Trump's executive order on the 'travel ban.') The Homeland Security Department sent some of the 87 Iranian refugees personal rejection letters, citing security concerns. Others simply got forms giving unspecified reasons for their rejections. They have no right to appeal, and their requests for review failed," Shea explains in a column for Fox News. While the U.S. insists they won't be forced to go back to Iran, Austrian authorities aren't so sure. If the American government rejected them, the chances of Vienna's officials harboring them are slim.
The situation is so critical that Sam Brownback, the new Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, has made this priority number one. But resolving the problem, even with members like Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) weighing in, will be difficult. The State Department has no policy for dealing with the situation, meaning that this father, an 87-year-old wheelchair-bound grandmother, and other Christians with relatives in the U.S. face an uncertain fate.
Things get even more complicated with the exit of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Although President Trump has nominated an excellent replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, at least one senator seems intent on sabotaging his confirmation: Republican Rand Paul (Ky.). "I'll do whatever it takes [to oppose him]," Senator Paul said over the weekend, "and that includes filibuster." Apparently, the senate's most outspoken isolationist would rather leave the State Department in disarray than advance American priorities and help hurting people like these.
"He will get confirmed," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted on Sunday. Let's hope so. Brownback's efforts show just how badly America needs a Secretary of State who understands the stabilizing power of religious freedom in our foreign policy. We have a great Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom -- now we need a Secretary of State who will put the proper emphasis on that First Freedom. I'm confident Mike Pompeo will do that, sending a message to terrorists and tyrants worldwide that the persecution and genocide of religious minorities will not be tolerated.
Senator Paul seems to think Mike Pompeo would be driving our military policy, which is completely untrue. He'll be driving our foreign policy. Regardless, this is not the time for political grandstanding. Countless lives are at stake -- and for the first time in decades, a true conservative has been chosen to lead the agency that's been the most responsible for undermining conservative principles and ideals. The same principles, ironically, that Rand Paul says he stands for. Call or email Senator Paul (202-224-4343) and ask him to help the persecuted by supporting -- not opposing -- Mike Pompeo.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.