Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2016 / 10:17 am (CNA).- Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence was met with heated criticism after suggesting that a Trump administration may ban Christian and Jewish refugees fleeing from terrorism. Speaking on a conservative radio show Monday, Pence was asked about his support for religious liberty in light of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s previous proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Pence responded that a general halt on immigration from certain countries would be “appropriate” for security concerns.

“The position that Donald Trump is advocating today is that we should temporarily suspend immigration from countries that have been compromised by terrorism, which I think is altogether fitting and appropriate,” he said. “The simple fact is that both our Homeland Security and the FBI have said there are countries like Syria where people are coming in through routine means, the refugee program and otherwise, that we simply cannot know who they are for sure,” he continued, “and so suspending that program from those countries, I think is in the best interest of the security of our people.”

Pence was then asked if the suspension would include Christian and Jewish immigrants and refugees. He simply reiterated his previous point of “temporary suspension of immigration from countries or territories compromised by terrorism.” His statements immediately came under fire from Catholic immigration advocates.

The proposal flies in the face of Church teaching and is misinformed, said Dr. Susan Weishar, a migration fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans who directed immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for 14 years. “Because everyone has the right to life and the conditions worthy of life, the Church teaches that people threatened by poverty, religious intolerance, and armed conflict, have a right to flee their home countries to realize a dignified life, and that wealthier countries have an obligation to receive them whenever possible,” Dr. Weishar told CNA.

Refugees are fleeing “the very terror that we abhor,” she added, and the U.S. can accept them without “compromising our national security.” “The U.S. vetting process for refugee is rigorous and thorough, involving multiple background checks, several in-person interviews, and an average wait time of 12-18 months before entering the United States,” Dr. Weishar added. Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also voiced strong disagreement with the Trump-Pence proposal.

“USCIRF is on record supporting the continued resettlement of refugees into the U.S, including those who are fleeing religious persecution,” he said, stressing that the U.S. should be “generous” in admitting refugees. The particular situation for religious minorities in Syria is dire, Fr. Reese said, and the U.S. should “prioritize the resettlement of Syrian refugees based on their vulnerability.”

“Throughout the region, ISIL has targeted for persecution, and in some cases genocide, members of religious minority communities — because of their faith.  At the same time, ISIL also has targeted both Shia and Sunni Muslims who have resisted their violent ideology. And the Assad regime has targeted multiple religious communities,” he said. “Given the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis, USCIRF also has called for resettling 100,000 refugees from Syria.”

As governor of Indiana, Pence tried to halt the resettlement of refugees there last fall, citing security concerns. He ordered state agencies to not pass on federal grant dollars to refugee resettlement programs there. Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis still had the Catholic Charities in the diocese to resettle a Syrian refugee family that had been through the vetting process and was cleared by the U.S. federal agencies for resettlement. The archbishop met with Pence in December, after which the governor said he “respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time.”