According to the U.S. State Department, 99 percent of the 13,210 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in FY 2016 were Muslim, while only 0.5 percent were Christian.

The staggering disparity prompted Seventh U.S. Circuit Court Judge Daniel Manion to point out in an Oct. 1 decision that the Obama administration had no “good explanation” for the “perplexing discrepancy” between Muslim and Christian numbers. 

And Manion isn’t alone in his concerns. Amid fears that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn’t properly vetting Muslim refugees from nations known to grow terrorists, several congressmen introduced bills attempting to rectify the situation last year.  

But as 2017 dawns, the complex situation is so far unchanged—and the reason for that may lie within our country’s relationship with the United Nations. 

No Simple Answers

These complexities are a major concern for Dr. Nayla Rush, senior researcher at Washington’s Center for 

Immigration Studies (CIS). She cites several causes for the “perplexing discrepancy”:

Referrals for refugee status come from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which may be subjective; 

Vetting is done first by the UNHCR in the nation of origin, then by the receiving nation, and is imperfect.

Christians don’t always apply for refugee status at the same rates as Muslims.

Rush’s interests are more than academic. A native of Lebanon, she experienced firsthand the forces that drive people to flee their countries. During the 1991 Lebanese civil war, “our cities and neighborhoods were bombed, and we could have asked for refugee status (but did not),” she tells Citizen. 

Rush, who married an American in 2013 and now resides in the U.S., notes that our federal government “is entrusting the staff of the UNCHR with the entire selection and pre-screening process of Syrian refugees eligible for resettlement in the United States.” 

This is because “proper screening of people cannot be done,” CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian told Congress in 2015. The UNHCR refers refugees for 
resettlement in the U.S. and elsewhere, and those nations choose a specific number of referrals. The U.S. vets those refugees, but “we are giving our people an assignment that they cannot accomplish successfully,” Krikorian said.

In 2006, the UN Global Commission on International Migration established the Global Migration Group (GMG) to guide UN policy on immigration and the 10 UN agencies already directly involved in implementing it, including

the UNCHR; 

the International Labour Organization;

the International Organization for Migration;

the United National Conference on Trade and Development;

the United Nations Development Programme;

the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs;

the United Nations Population Fund;

the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; and

the World Bank.

The GMG aims “to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and norms relating to migration, and to encourage the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the issue of international migration,” according to its website.

GMG also seeks to enhance “the efforts of individual states … in the field of international migration” and to help achieve a “greater consistency in policy formulation and programme implementation”within nations. GMG also tries to be involved in “reinforcing human rights, labour rights, human security and criminal justice dimensions of migration governance and management.”

Most of those screened by UN personnel in Syria are Muslims because, says Rush, they represent the largest portion of that nation’s population. Christians might have access to more resources enabling them to travel on their own as migrants, and thus don’t apply for refugee status at the same levels as Muslims. 

But a basic foundation of resettlement policy is that it provides a “durable solution for refugees unable to voluntarily return home or remain in their country of 
refuge, the case of Christian refugees in hostile surroundings,” Rush explains. In fact, “if you wanted to resettle refugees you would settle Christians first,” because they may be targets for Muslim terrorists. But many Christians, Rush says, may be reluctant to apply for refugee status, fearing persecution in refugee camps.

Meanwhile, Middle East UNCHR staffers are mostly nationals from the region. They are the “day-to-day people” involved in refugee application and resettlement referrals. 

“Despite strict guidelines and training, personal sympathies are at play,” Rush tells Citizen, “and the whole process becomes rather subjective.” 

Who is a Refugee?

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) believes getting a clear, objective definition of true refugees is vital. 

“The Islamic State is seeking to eradicate Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabean-Mandeans, Jews and other religious groups it sees as apostates and infidels,” said Cotton when he introduced the Religious Persecution Relief Act last March. “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 active steps to relieve it.”

Under existing law, “anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” is banned from entering the U.S. as a refugee. 

Despite those precise parameters, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) is concerned about the “untold threat” posed through visa “overstays.” Some 40 percent of the 11 million individuals in the U.S. fall into that category—illegally.

“We are allowing millions of people to overstay visas and remain in this country who could potentially pose a threat to homeland security,” McCaul wrote in a Nov. 1 report.

The discrepancy was also behind Cotton’s push for the Religious Persecution Act of 2016, which seeks to address the concern that “the current refugee resettlement process unintentionally discriminates against Syrian religious minorities.” At press time, the bill was pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Cotton cited a 2013 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom underscoring Rush’s concerns: Christians and Muslim Alawites reportedly are not registering with the UNHCR because they fear negative repercussions from Sunni refugees who identify them with the Assad regime.

Since the religious minorities don’t go through the UN process in their home countries, they don’t get referred to the United States, another factor leading to the discrepancy. “This is unintentional discrimination, and it results in persecuted religious minorities being shut out of the U.S. resettlement program,” says Cotton.

To remedy that, his legislation would establish a quota of 10,000 members of Syrian religious minorities in addition to the global resettlement quota established by the U.S. State Department. “This would guarantee a critical mass in the U.S. of religious minority groups,” he explains.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a resolution in late 2015, calling for the Senate to express the sense “that the atrocities perpetrated … against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” The Senate passed the resolution last July.

In the House, Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) are seeking action as well. Their bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, would prioritize giving genocide survivors and members of other smaller religious and ethnic communities at risk of persecution, access to the overseas application process for the U.S. Refugees Admissions program without first being referred by the UN, a non-governmental organization or the U.S. government. 

The legislation doesn’t change the security screening required of all Iraqi and Syrian refugees applying for admission to the U.S.  Smith’s resolution, H. Con. Res. 121, asked the president “to direct his Ambassador at the United Nations to promote the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes could be addressed.” The resolution was passed by the House last March and forwarded to the Senate, where it is pending in the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Disparity Continues

Despite these and other legislative initiatives, actions have not been taken, and, as 2016 ended, the disparity between the numbers of Muslims and religious minorities being allowed into the United States as refugees continued.

October 2016 arrivals “were once again dominated by Sunni Muslims,” CNS News reported on Nov. 1. In fact, 1,297 Sunnis were resettled—97.3 percent of the refugees admitted to the United States that month, and a 593 percent increase over the October 2015 total—while only 15 Christians were allowed into the U.S. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was disturbed by the October surge. “The integrity of our immigration system and our national sovereignty require a real change in enforcement,” he told the press. “The future of our nation depends on strong, secure borders, and a president willing to enforce our laws.”

With the election of Donald Trump, America may now have the latter: The new president’s plan for his first 100 days in office includes “removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel(ling) visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back,” as well as suspending “immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.”

Pope Francis also raised concern about assimilation and integration into the host country. The Catholic leader’s remarks surprised some because he had previously called for open borders in Europe, and suggested countries barring large numbers of refugees were selfish. However, in light of the growing immigrant crisis in Europe, the Pope sought to clarify his position. 

“If a refugee is not integrated … he becomes a ghetto,” he explained—and that “is very dangerous.” 

Rush agrees. Failure to integrate is “a recipe for disaster,” she tells Citizen. This occurs as the second generation of refugees start to resent the host society, making them vulnerable to radicalization. “You must accept only what you can integrate.”

A Borderless World

Reforming immigration policy is difficult because the current refugee crisis is occurring within a new globalist consensus among leaders and influential groups in Europe and the United States. And eliminating national borders is their goal. 

Three features characterize the new establishment consensus on globalism: First is economic globalism, inevitable in a wired world. Second, the new globalism is a sociological push for “shared values.” The UN Commission on Global Governance, formed in 1992, declared the need “to weave a tighter fabric of international norms,” and “certain common values.” Expanding abortion, as well as accepting homosexuality and same-sex marriage and transgenderism, are now “values” the world is urged to embrace. In 2011, President Obama made worldwide protection of LGBT rights a major tenet of American foreign policy.

And the third form of the new globalism is spiritual. Sixteen years ago, approximately 2,000 religious leaders gathered at the UN for the “Millennium World Peace Summit.” Our Global Neighborhood, published by the Commission, noted they wanted to “promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations, eradicating poverty and reversing the current trend toward a widening gap between rich and poor.”

And that, says the Commission on Global Governance, requires a worldwide system. The Commission said the UN “must continue to play a central role in global governance.” Such a system “includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest.”  

National borders have increasingly become obstructive to the goal to “enforce compliance,” contributing to the push for a borderless world. The Commission was informal, and its 1995 report predated the current crisis of national borders, but reflected a worldview within the UN bureaucracy.

Thus, the current refugee crisis and the role of the UN must be seen in the context of the new globalism, its economic aims, vision for shared values, and perhaps even a world-centered religion. It is this confluence of UN claims to moral and even legislative authority over refugee and migration issues, plus the new globalism that has stirred the “perfect storm” now blasting Europe, threatening the United States, and posing a major policy challenge to the new Trump administration.

“The United States, under the Obama administration, worked hand-in-hand with UNHCR to bring in increasing numbers of refugees under the resettlement program considered by the UN as one the ‘durable solutions,’ ” says Rush. “But why is bringing refugees to Western countries away from familiar cultural settings the best solution? Why not provide them with economic opportunities in their region and render them better equipped to rebuild their country after the war is over?”

However, Trump’s administration “will have the opportunity to develop its own refugee policy,” she says—“one that puts more emphasis on proximity help and ultimately, return.”

Originally published in the January 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.