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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks in front of the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, May 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

WASHINGTON -- On the same day that the U.S. government accused the Islamic State of genocide, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton introduced legislation to allow up to 50,000 members of Syrian religious minorities to resettle in the United States between now and Sept. 30, 2020.

The Republican from Dardanelle on Thursday filed his bill, known as The Religious Persecution Relief Act.

Persecuted Christians would qualify, but so would members of other embattled faith groups, including Yazidis and Mandeans, who face extermination in lands ruled by jihadists.

The number admitted would be capped at 10,000 each federal fiscal year, starting with fiscal 2016.

During a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Cotton described the barbarism encountered by religious minorities in the areas controlled by the Islamic State: women forced into sexual slavery; men beheaded and crucified.

"Syrians of all confessions are being victimized by this savage war and are facing unimaginable suffering, but only Christians and other minorities are the deliberate targets of systematic persecution and genocide. Their ancient communities are at risk of extermination. Their ancestral homes and religious sites are being erased from the Middle Eastern map," he said. "Christians and other minorities should not be shut out from the small number of refugees who find shelter in the United States. We ought to help ensure that these faith communities survive."

Only 41 of the 1,790 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. last year were members of religious minorities, including 29 Christians, Cotton said. While religious minorities made up 13 percent of prewar Syria, they accounted for only 2.3 percent of the refugees allowed to enter America, he added.

The danger that religious minorities face isn't limited to Islamic State-controlled territory, he said.

Persecution is so severe that many Christians are afraid to live in United Nations refugee camps or to submit the paperwork seeking asylum to international aid workers, Cotton said.

Rather than going through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- as typically happens now -- Cotton's legislation would allow asylum seekers to apply directly to the United States Refugee Admissions Program.

Asked how his bill would affect other refugees, Cotton said it would raise the maximum number of overall refugees rather than reallocating the existing spots.

"This would not take potential slots away from any other kind of refugee," he said Thursday afternoon.

In an interview, Council on American-Islamic Relations national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said it's important that the legislation increases the number of refugees rather than shifting the opportunities from one group to another.

The council, based in Washington, D.C., describes itself as the "largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization."

"If it assists those in need and who are targeted because of their minority status, I see no problem with it as long as it's not used to deny assistance to other people in need," he said.

Cotton's proposal comes four months after he and other Republicans tried to slow the influx of Syrian refugees, saying security and screening measures were lacking.

Asked about those concerns, Cotton said, "Under this track, any Christian or other religious minority would still have to undergo the same security screening that anyone else would under the traditional refugee process."

"We're not under attack by radical Christian groups. We're not under attack by radical Yazidi groups. We're under attack by radical Muslims. And to the extent that a persecuted Christian shows up at a U.S. facility and demonstrates that he's both a Christian and that he's fled his lands, I think that we can have more confidence that that person's not going to be an ISIS terrorist if they come to our country."

Similar refugee status has been given to other persecuted religious groups over the years, including victims of religious persecution in the Soviet Union and Iran, he said.

Cotton's proposal is "very important," according to Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and a longtime international human rights attorney.

The U.N. camps where refugee applications typically originate have few Christians "because it's too dangerous for them. The persecution that they suffered in Iraq and Syria follows them into the camps so they cannot seek shelter there," said Shea, a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"There is a course correction needed, particularly since now they are officially acknowledged as victims of ... an ongoing genocide," she said.

A Section on 03/18/2016

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  • WGT
    March 18, 2016 at 8:12 a.m.

    All religion is poison. All. Religion. Is. Poison.
    Anyone believing there is an invisible man in the sky is dubious. This is a start from people responsible for the creation of the tragedy.

  • Jackabbott
    March 18, 2016 at 8:43 a.m.

    Immigration of any kind needs to be seriously evaluated today. Very few people have faith that the government under either party can properly manage this correctly. The expense to taxpayers in the way of local taxes is high, especially property taxes hurts senior and the middle classes and the poor.
    Government official do not enforce the current laws on the books and then try to pass more legislation that evades what is already there.
    Cotton with his ties to the discredited and corrupt Council for Growth or whatever these wealthy morons call themselves today, needs to be held accountable for something that may not in the best interest of the USA.

  • nwar
    March 18, 2016 at 9:51 a.m.

    Gee whiz Senator -- ISIS also murders every Shia Muslim they get their hands on too. They get a free pass into the U.S. as well?

  • hurricane46
    March 18, 2016 at 9:58 a.m.

    And once again the taxpayers will foot the bill.

  • Lifelonglearner
    March 18, 2016 at 11:18 a.m.

    Wow! I happy to be able to commend Senator Cotton for introducing this legislation. As to the cost, as long as there is money for tax cuts and subsidies for big corporations, especially the multinationals, there is money for us to do the things a "Christian nation" is supposed to do. The funding competition is not between homeless veterans and other truly needy causes. It is between the powerless and the well connected.

  • mrcharles
    March 18, 2016 at 12:17 p.m.

    And you liberals didnt think cotton had a working heart!

    I thought the flood took care of the bad human beings?

    I heard ISIS kills both those who smoke cigarettes and also homosexuals. Since they are Sunni cant we just do like part of the surge did, just pay people who were formerly killing our troops not to kill them any more? I will recommend the legistlature do that to the gangs of LR as an alternative way to handle crime, which will probably be cheaper in the long run.

    Does anyone know if his bill has provisions for killing the families of terrorists, which seems to be a point of discussion. The other day I heard the #1 radio program people who talk often of the LORD agree with killing the families , even women and children. They did not mention whether children meant babies also, but I guess that they would qualify under the term children. Also there was no mention of how you kill them, so a civilized country like ours with conservative legislature will have to tackle that sticky problem. Of course we must maintain we are never on the losing side, as killing women and children on purpose might be considered by the weak as "crimes against humanity". [ wonder if 2nd or 3rd cousins or close friends of friends would be exempt?]

    nwar not sure shia [ some rites have catholic roots] are good Christians like Mormons or Seven day Adventist are or like Catholics are like my Protestant friends tell me. they worry about them going to Hell due to wrong deity beliefs.

    Perhaps Trump will sort it all out. He seems reasonable to a degree for a Republican. What I want to know is he or Sarah Palin the most reasonable?

  • tenpoint
    March 18, 2016 at 6:14 p.m.

    cotton why are you letting them people into the United States when we are fighting them people. That is not very smart. If you can't do any better than that you have no business in
    Washington. You should resign.

  • wolfman
    March 18, 2016 at 7:25 p.m.

    Wow is cotton now a democrat?

  • carpenterretired
    March 18, 2016 at 8:52 p.m.

    One could say young Tom is a loose cannon ,but all his bragging has been about being a ranger-paratrooper not artillery guy, now seem to recall a lot of showboating about attacking Syria and whipping up on those Syrians ,now he appears to have climbed in bed with Obama in wanting to bring a bunch of Syrian refugees to US .Does the young lad have a full deck?

  • HenryP
    March 19, 2016 at 11:43 a.m.

    Tom, we have 50000 homeless vets in our country. Why don't you take care of them first.....Someone please ask Tom this question.......