Real estate mogul and controversial Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has made remarks about the plight of Christians in Syria. Unfortunately, his comments were less than truthful on the matter.
According to Louis Jacobson of Politifact, Trump claimed that Syrian Christians would be unable to claim refugee status in the United States. He talked about the issue during a speech in Las Vegas on July 11.
"If you're from Syria and you're a Christian, you cannot come into this country, and they're the ones that are being decimated," Trump said. "If you are Islamic ... it's hard to believe, you can come in so easily."
Trump added that Muslims were "one of our main groups of people that are coming in" to this country.
"Not that we should discriminate against one or the other, but if you are Christian, you cannot get into the country," Trump said. "You cannot get into the country."
Jacobson checked to see if Trump's claim about Syrian Christians was accurate. While both Trump and the White House did not respond, Politifact contacted "representatives of a range of refugee-assistance groups and scholars who study the issue."
"The most that can be said for Trump's claim is that there is a sizable difference between the number of Muslims and the number of Christians that have come into the United States as refugees so far," Jacobson wrote.
Based on federal data gathered by Politifact, a total 906 Muslims arrived in the United States as refugees from Syria, the vast majority of them from Sunni Islam. As for other groups from Syria seeking similar status, 28 of them were Christians while the rest were two atheists, two from Baha'i faith, and one who didn't state any religion.
"On its face, Trump's claim that you 'cannot come into this country' if you're a Christian from Syria is wrong," Jacobson wrote.
According to data compiled by the CIA World Fact Book, Syria's population is 87 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. Shaina Ward, associate director of Refugee Council USA, told Politifact that the refugee numbers of Muslims and Christians from Syria are not disproportionately high, noting that refugees are screened by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees before resettling them.
"While there may be higher numbers of Muslims from Syria who have come to the U.S. than Christians, this is not reflective of any policy making it easier for Muslims and harder for Christians," Ward said.
Politifact reported that there was nothing to back up Trump's claim that the U.S. government officially discriminates against Christians when it comes to resettling refugees. Law professor Jennifer Moore of the University of New Mexico looked at the eligibility requirements for refugees who want to resettle in the United States.
"The U.S. refugee resettlement program is open to Muslims and Christians, as well as to members of other targeted religious groups," Moore said.
Politifact pointed out that the government has only let in less than 1,000 refugees into the U.S. in the past nine months and about 2,500 prior to August 2014. That's because refugees to the U.S. faced a long resettlement process.
"Once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee must undergo a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, 'cultural orientation' classes, and one final security clearance," Jacobson wrote. "The background checks are often particularly complicated for refugees who were forced to flee their homes without the opportunity to gather important paperwork."
Professor Susan Martin of Georgetown University slammed Trump's suggestions that Muslims "can come in so easily" based on the current entry requirements for refugees.
"I know from my own research and the literature on resettlement that no one comes in 'easily,'" Martin said. "The security checks are very comprehensive and very time consuming."
However, Politifact contended that the U.S. could speed up the process for Christian refugees in Syria by granting them a special "priority 2" or "P-2" status. Groups that have previously been granted such status include Jews, evangelical Christians, and Catholics and Orthodox Christians from the former Soviet Union.
"So far, no group from Syria, Christians or otherwise, has been granted this status," Jacobson wrote.
Based on its analysis, Politifact labelled Trump's overall claim of Syrian Christians as "False."
"This is wrong on its face -- a small number of Syrian Christians been admitted as refugees over the past nine months -- and also false in spirit, since there is nothing in the United States' laws or regulations that discriminates against Christian refugees," Jacobson wrote.