On June 26th, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by 19 of his Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to grant emergency refugee protections to Hindu and Sikh communities in Afghanistan facing life-threatening persecution as religious minorities.
In a bipartisan letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the State Department to prioritize resettlement opportunities under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program allocation ceilings for Afghan Hindu and Sikh communities, whose populations have plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and recent terrorist attacks on their communities in 2018 and 2020.
“This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority,” the senators wrote. “Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities.”
The Senate letter to Pompeo comes in the wake of the Hindu American Foundation’s campaign to “Save Afghan Hindus and Sikhs”, which calls on the Senate to amend the Lautenberg-Specter Amendment by extending Priority 2 protections to persecuted religious minorities in Afghanistan. The HAF campaign was launched on April 23, 2020 and has generated nearly 1,700 emails to Congress to date.
It is especially noteworthy that the Senate has adopted the HAF position on extending Priority 2 protections, as opposed to Priority 1 which is only a short-term fix, stating in their letter that “A P2 designation would maximize opportunities for resettlement of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus under the FY20 allocations ceilings for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the allocation for refugees who ‘have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion.’”
“We greatly appreciate Senator Menendez’s leadership on this issue and likewise urge the Senate to do their part and amend U.S. law to save Afghan Hindus and Sikhs,” stated HAF Managing Director Samir Kalra, Esq. “Congress has a role to play here and Hindu Americans look forward to working with our friends in the US Senate to achieve our common goals,” Kalra said.
Joining Senator Menendez in signing the letter to Secretary Pompeo were Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and James Lankford (R-OK).