Ryan: Presidents Often Prioritize Refugee Claims--Obama 'Put a Preference in for Sexual Orientation'

By Melanie Arter | February 2, 2017 | 12:38 PM EST

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis,) (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday that there’s nothing wrong with President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration including a preference for religious minorities facing persecution, because it’s a common practice for presidents to include preferences in refugee populations and that former President Barack Obama did the same thing for sexual orientation.

“Presidents always and often put preferences in refugee populations,” Ryan said. “I think President Obama had one for sexual orientation. They didn’t call that a sexual orientation test. He put a preference in for sexual orientation.

“Religious minorities who are being persecuted, there’s nothing wrong with preferring religious minorities from persecution. Yazidis are being persecuted. Sunnis in Shia countries are being persecuted. Christians are being persecuted, so there’s nothing wrong with saying we’re going to take into account minority religious persecution with our refugee situation,” he said.

Trump’s executive orders states: “The Secretary of State shall submit to the President an initial report on the progress of the directive in subsection (b) of this section regarding prioritization of claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution within 100 days of the date of this order and shall submit a second report within 200 days of the date of this order.”

In 2015, then President Obama issued a presidential memorandum titled Presidential Memorandum -- International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.

Under Section 2 of the memorandum titled, “Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers,” it stated: “Those LGBT persons who seek refuge from violence and persecution face daunting challenges. In order to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.”

In a Dec. 8, 2015 press briefing, then White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that the Obama administration would “prioritize the cases of those who are deemed to be the most vulnerable,” adding that while there were “no quotas that are set aside,” the process prioritizes “the cases of those who have been subjected to torture, including … an LGBT person.”

“Among the deeds committed by ISIS’s anti-LGBT violence, such as throwing men perceived as gay from rooftops, one activist in Lebanon told the Washington Blade ISIS hanged a transgender woman in a Damascus suburb by her breasts. Some LGBT advocates are calling for the Obama administration to set aside 500 slots in the anticipated 10,000 Syrian refugees for LGBT people.  Is the President aware of the anti-LGBT persecution conducted by ISIS and will he reserve 500 slots -- direct the State Department to reserve 500 slots for LGBT refugees?” a reporter from the Washington Blade asked.

“Chris, the tactics of ISIL have shown a callous disregard for basic human rights.  And it is certainly no secret that there are a variety of ways in which they offend those basic rights and trample those rights. That’s one of the reasons the President has mobilized such a strong international coalition to destroy them,” Earnest said.

“When it comes to our refugee resettlement efforts, the United States does not set aside quotas like what you just described.  But what the United States does do, in terms of resettling refugees, is prioritize the cases of those who are deemed to be the most vulnerable -- those who have been subjected to acts of torture, those who have been singled out because of their minority status in one way or another. And that is I think, again, a testament to the values of the United States and it also is another useful example to illustrate why essentially ending the refugee program is contrary to the basic values of this country,” he added.

“And to be clear, the instance of anti-LGBT persecution that I described would be considered a priority under the refugee program as you mentioned?” the Blade reporter asked.

“Well, again, there are no quotas that are set aside, but the process that we have implemented does prioritize the cases of those who have been subjected to torture, including like the torture that you described, or might have been singled out for their status as a minority, whether that’s a racial minority or an ethnic minority or a religious minority, or even somebody -- an LGBT person,” Earnest responded.

A reporter at Thursday’s press briefing asked Ryan, “You obviously spoke out forcefully last year about the Muslim ban. I’m wondering if you’re totally comfortable right now with Trump’s executive order and the provisions that give preferential treatment to minority religion.”

Ryan clarified that the president’s executive order was not a Muslim ban and that he’s against banning Muslims.

“That’s a good question,” Ryan said, “because you know this is not a Muslim ban. If it were, I would be against it. We are a tolerant pluralistic country. We are, and we will be. It’s really important.”

Ryan said it was discovered that one of the perpetrators of last year’s Paris terrorist attacks had “infiltrated” the Syrian refugee community, so effective vetting of the refugee population was necessary.

“The bill we passed last year – if you recall – after the Paris shooting, it became clear to us that one of the terrorists infiltrated the refugee population coming from Syria, so we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen here in this country. That’s just sort of like National Security 101,” Ryan said.

“And then when we inquired among our professionals at homeland security and the FBI, can you properly vet these people to make sure that this didn’t happen in America, they said no we can’t, and so that’s why we passed legislation with 289 votes – big bipartisan bill, saying let’s pause this program until we can figure out how to get it right,” Ryan added.

“That’s effectively what this is about, so to your point about religious persecution, presidents always and often put preferences in refugee populations,” he said.

“I think President Obama had one for sexual orientation. They didn’t call that a sexual orientation test. He put a preference in for sexual orientation. Religious minorities who are being persecuted, there’s nothing wrong with preferring religious minorities from persecution. Yazidis are being persecuted. Sunnis in Shia countries are being persecuted. Christians are being persecuted, so there’s nothing wrong with saying we’re going to take into account minority religious persecution with our refugee situation,” Ryan said.