November 26, 2015; The Atlantic
Tennessee state lawmaker Glen Casada made headlines after the attacks in Paris when he called for “gathering up” Syrian refugees who have settled in the state and “politely” taking them back to Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the message, “They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.” In response to reporters’ questions about whether he had gone too far, Casada denied that he was speaking about internment camps. “No,” he said. “We gather them, we take them back to ICE…and we say, ‘Gentlemen, make sure these guys have no tie to terrorist activities.’”
Tennessee is one of the more than half of U.S. states whose governors have formally opposed accepting refugees from Syria. Covering the governors’ campaign as it began to unfold, Rick Cohen saw the states’ actions and those at the federal level as a political tool aimed at not just Syrian refugees, but the nation’s entire resettlement apparatus, which could bring in 85,000 asylum seekers next year, of whom perhaps 10,000 might be Syrians.
Meanwhile, as Ruth McCambridge reports, over in Texas, the Health and Human Services Commission asked nonprofits involved with resettlement to stop serving refugees from Syria. While Catholic Charities of Dallas initially agreed that it would comply, everyday Catholics taking to social media and other outlets brought about a swift reversal in the agency’s position.
Both McCambridge and Cohen challenge the nonprofit community to have a strategy for standing up to those using fear and hatred as political tools. Yesterday, McCambridge pointed to groups in New Jersey and Indiana that are pushing back. While those in the resettlement community have come out with strongly worded responses, we are reminded that any organization whose mission promotes inclusion, openness and democracy has a stake in this.
As has been reported in news articles and stories since the Paris attacks, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric and actions have brought to sharp relief America’s fear of and objectification of the other. As Emma Green writes:
Muslims—whether they’ve been in the U.S. for generations or for just a few years; whether they’re white or South Asian or of Arab descent; whether they’re practicing or lapsed or somewhere in between—are often considered as a mass, and mostly in relation to terrorism.
Some are preparing for the prospects of legal battles. As Lavinia Limón, head of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, puts it, “This is America and we’re very concerned about protecting these refugees from the ugliness that we hear every day on the television.”
And ugly it is. Ben Carson’s referring to refugees as “rabid dogs” is not only the most visible example, it is unfortunately illustrative of the tropes that have taken over much of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, at the dinner table, on talk radio and among cable news pundits. “Politicians won’t solve this problem”; “All those refugees look like able-bodied young men to me”; “No one is even looking at their paperwork”; “They come in and have babies and then they stay here forever”; “Who pays for all of the free services?”
Molly Ball attended a Trump rally South Carolina and, as she writes in The Atlantic, those expressing these viewpoints aren’t “skinheads. They don’t seem like jerks.” Describing the mood of the rally, she says, “the energy in this room does not feel dark and aggressive and threatening. It doesn’t feel like a powder keg about to blow, a lynch mob about to rampage. It feels joyous,” despite the negativity and fear. And as Ball candidly observes, the reporters like being there. They know the more outrageous his comments, the more likely they’ll get airtime.
But practiced on the ground, the motivation is anything but lightness and love, as a scene in front of the Idaho state Capitol recently revealed when groups opposing refugees carried hateful signs and squared off against those w