Bill would help Christians in Iraq threatened by Islamic State

San Diego area congressmen sponsor bill to help Christians and others under threat by Islamic State

Two San Diego area congressmen are among the sponsors of a bill to rescue members of religious minorities threatened with violence by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - possibly helping them join the large Middle Eastern immigrant community in eastern San Diego County.

Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) and Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) are sponsoring HR1568, the Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act. The bill, introduced this week, has bipartisan support, including from Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Conyers said the bill is meant to address “the urgent need for America to provide a safe haven for persecuted people.”

The two largest communities of Middle Eastern immigrants in the U.S. are in Conyers' district, which includes the eastern portion of Detroit and several suburbs, and in the El Cajon-La Mesa area east of San Diego.

Mark Arabo, a leader of the Chaldean Christian community in eastern San Diego County, praised the bill, calling it “a turning point in the genocide of the Christian people…. The lives of thousands stand precariously in the balance until this act sees the light of day.”

Islamic State radicals have killed Christians and other religious minorities in a large area of Iraq and Syria, destroyed churches and shrines, and forced tens of thousands to flee.

The bill would give give priority status to Iraqis and Syrians who are members of a persecuted religion and want to enter the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and possibly relocate to the U.S.

“The barbaric ideology of ISIS poses serious threats to the lives of Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks and other groups in the region,” Vargas said. “We must protect people who fear for their lives.”

tony.perry@latimes.com

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