Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Juan Vargas (CA-51), together with Congressman Tom Rooney (FL-17), Congressman John Conyers (MI-13), and Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50), introduced the Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015  (H.R. 1568) in response to the persecution religious minorities are facing in territories controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

The bill seeks to provide humanitarian relief to those who are facing persecution or have a credible fear of being persecuted.  Religious minorities in ISIS-held areas have endured many forms of violence such as being forced from their homes, civilian kidnappings, and the seizure and/or demolition of churches and shrines.

“This bipartisan legislation will give families an opportunity to flee an area where they fear being killed or persecuted for expressing their religious views,” Vargas said. “The barbaric ideology of ISIS poses serious threats to the lives of Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks, and other groups in the region. Religious freedom is a founding principle of our nation, and as leaders of the most revered democracy in the world, we must protect people who fear for their lives while exercising this most basic right.”

H.R. 1568 will allow persecuted nationals, or residents, in ISIS-held territories in Iraq and Syria to apply directly to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  These persecuted groups will include religious and ethnic minorities and those facing gender-based violence. Priority 2 processing is for groups of identified as being of special humanitarian concern. In these cases, the threshold for admission would be a well-founded fear of persecution and asserting a credible basis for that concern.

The bill has been introduced with bipartisan support including the co-sponsorship of Congressman Tom Rooney.  “ISIS continues to stage mass killings of religious minorities across the region and hundreds more men, women and children have been forcibly displaced, held captive and enslaved.  These horrific acts of terror pose a threat to the very existence of these religious minorities in the Middle East and our bipartisan bill offers them the potential for a desperately needed safe haven,” Rooney said.

Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, has also co-sponsored the bill.  "As a U.S. Representative from an area with one of the largest Chaldean Christian diaspora populations in the country, I can personally attest to the urgent need for America to provide a safe haven for persecuted people in Iraq," said Conyers.  "Over the past decade, Christian minorities’ monasteries have been raided, prominent clergy have been executed, and churches have been attacked during worship.  This bill is an important step for civilian protection and one that we should pass without delay."

“ISIS is threatening not only the stability of an entire region, but also the lives and wellbeing of innocent people for their religious beliefs and associations,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “There is no place in a civilized world for ISIS and as the U.S. and our partners continue the fight to eliminate this threat, we must not forget that there are people who desperately need protection and relief—especially religious minority groups.  We must put our military and diplomatic resources to action, to the fullest extent possible, and I’m grateful for those in the House—including Rep. Vargas—who recognize that urgency.”