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Protesters outside the White House on Jan. 29, 2017, demonstrating against President Donald Trump's original travel ban. RNS Photo by Jerome Socolovsky

Faith groups: new immigration order still anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant

(RNS) Federal judges may find the President Donald Trump’s new executive order on immigration more acceptable than the last.

But many religious groups and faith leaders see no meaningful difference in the new measure, which Trump signed privately Monday (March 6).

“Make no mistake, this is the Muslim ban that President Trump and his aides have been promising,” Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement. “The administration is just rearranging the chairs at the same table.”

Critics of what Khera calls “Muslim Ban 2.0″ argue that it still singles out only Muslim-majority nations, and fuels Islamophobia already on the rise in the U.S.

“President Trump’s revised executive order is still a Muslim ban, and it’s still bigoted and un-American,” Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said in a statement.

Faith leaders also take issue with the new order’s limitations on the resettlement of refugees as a refutation of the religious requirement to shelter the most vulnerable.

“While it appears that the Administration has sought to correct some of the flaws contained in the first executive order, this newly issued one still prevents us from undertaking life saving work during the most critical time for refugees and displaced persons in human history,” Linda Hartke, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, said in a statement.

“The new order doubles down on demonizing refugees – implying that America should fear those who have been persecuted, tortured, threatened, and victimized by terrorists,” she continued.

The  new ban differs from the executive order Trump signed on Jan. 27 on several points that the Trump administration hopes will blunt criticism and help the new order pass legal muster. (A federal appeals court stayed Trump’s first order on Feb. 3).

The revised executive order:

  • Allows Syrians to be resettled in the U.S. after a 120-day ban. They were indefinitely excluded under the previous ban.
  • Drops Iraq from the original list of seven Muslim majority nations from which foreign nationals are blocked for 90 days from entering the U.S. The remaining six countries are: Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iran,
  • Removes the preference given to refugees from members of minority religious groups, such as Christians — a distinction many Christian groups considered unChristian.

But some who advocate for the Middle East’s beleaguered Christian minorities worry that the removal of special protections for minority religions necessitates a new order to address their suffering at the hand of the group known as the Islamic State.

“There’s a dire need for Pres. Trump to issue a separate executive order — one specifically aimed to help ISIS genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria,” Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said in a statement after the new executive order’s release.

“For three years, the Christians, Yizidis and others of the smallest religious minorities have been targeted by ISIS with beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture and sexual enslavement,” she said.

The new order, set to go into affect on March 16, also contains exceptions for dual citizens and holders of green cards who want to travel to the U.S. from the restricted countries.

“It is the president’s solemn duty to protect the American people,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after Trump signed the new order. “As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually reevaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country.”

Under the new order, no refugees will be accepted into the U.S. for  120 days, and the number will not exceed 50,000 refugees in a year — compared to the 110,000 allowed under former President Obama.

“The language of the ban is slightly changed, but the results for refugees are the same,” said Mark Hetfield, CEO of HIAS, a Jewish agency that resettles immigrants.

“Even for the thousands of refugees who have already followed all the rules, and have already been subject to extreme security vetting, President Trump will not allow them into the United States.”

(Reuters contributed to this report)

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