It’s Time For The Obama Administration To Let In Iraqi Christian Refugees

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Fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) stand near a pick-up truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon in front of a church in the Assyrian village of Tel Jumaa, north of Tel Tamr town February 25, 2015. Kurdish militia pressed an offensive against Islamic State in northeast Syria on Wednesday, cutting one of its supply lines from Iraq, as fears mounted for dozens of Christians abducted by the hardline group. The Assyrian Christians were taken from villages near the town of Tel Tamr, some 20 km (12 miles) to the northwest of the city of Hasaka. There has been no word on their fate. There have been conflicting reports on where the Christians had been taken. REUTERS/Rodi Said (SYRIA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) – RTR4R65U
Many of these Iraqi Christians are trying to emigrate to other, safer countries, including to the United States. Unfortunately, in Erbil, the city in the region where we have a U.S. Consulate, the U.S. does not process immigrant visa applications. This has created a roadblock for those who are desperately trying to exit the country.

Visa processing times are already notoriously slow, and allowing immigrant visas to be processed in Erbil could provide much needed relief. It would also demonstrate to the refugee population and the rest of the world that the United States government is committed to helping the thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities who have suffered enormously because of their faith.

I have written a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to allow the U.S. Consulate in Erbil to begin processing immigrant visas. This is not an action that would require additional military steps, nor would it require the U.S. to spend billions of taxpayer dollars towards a new conflict in Iraq. It is a simple request that would help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq escape the brutality and violence of ISIS terrorists and start a new life. Frankly, it is something that we should have been doing a long time ago. And we must consider additional steps to stop this barbarism.

Freedom of religion is part of our founding as a country, and has always been one of the most sacred liberties to the American people. We have a proud history of coming to the aid of religious minorities, and it is time for us to step forward again. We must not continue to sit on the sidelines as the situation gets worse. It is time to act. It is time to lead. And it is time to live up to our historical commitment to protect religious liberty around the world. In my journey of faith on the ancient stones of the Holy Land, I was reminded of that obligation.