No Room at the Political Inn
As Christmas decorations started going up and the holiday shopping season deals took off, Missouri state Rep. Chris Dinkins decided on a new political priority: banning refugees from Gaza. In an open letter on Monday (Nov. 27) to Gov. Mike Parson, Dinkins urged her fellow Republican to take executive action to block refugees from Gaza and “send a strong message about our commitment to the safety, values, and well-being of the people of Missouri.”
Dinkins, who is running for the state senate, declares on her campaign website that she “was born and raised in a working-class family with strong, Christain [sic] conservative values.” Yet, this member of a Baptist church attacks people wanting to flee violence in the holy land just as churches prepare to celebrate the birth of one who as a baby was a refugee and likely traveled right through Gaza on the way to Egypt.
Unfortunately, Dinkins isn’t alone. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to help his struggling presidential campaign last month by announcing his opposition to accepting Palestinian refugees. He even went so far as to claim everyone from Gaza hates Jews — an accusation that not only isn’t true about all Muslims in the besieged territory but also means he’s slandering the historic Christian community there.
“We cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees,” he declared. “Not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic.”
Not to be outdone on proposing discriminatory immigration and refugee policies, former President Donald Trump took time off from his court appearances to declare at a campaign rally that he wants to bring back his controversial Muslim travel ban and include Gaza in the places from which no one could enter the U.S. (thus blocking not just refugees being resettled but all visitors).
In Congress, Republican Reps. Andy Ogles of Tennessee and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin filed a bill to block the Biden administration from allowing Palestinian refugees. In a typical congressional PR move, they called their bill the “Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission Act,” which stands for GAZA Act. Tiffany, who like Ogles identifies as a Christian, claimed it would stop Biden from bringing “unvetted Palestinians into American communities” even though refugees are the most vetted people who enter the country.
Of course, all of this is really just political posturing. There’s no rush of Palestinian refugees heading to the U.S. this Christmas season. Few people are even able to escape Gaza right now, and even if they did, the refugee process usually takes several months or years before someone ends up in the United States.
Additionally, applicants from the Palestinian territories haven’t fared well in the U.S. process. Of the 60,000 people resettled in the U.S. in the federal fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, only 56 were Palestinians. And over the last two decades — a period that saw more than one million refugees welcomed into the U.S. — only about 2,000 were Palestinians. This number is so low in part because the U.N. criteria excludes most Palestinian refugees from the resettlement process.
But just because the bills and campaign rhetoric won’t actually slow down a refugee resettlement process, that doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Words matter. They not only can spread bigotry but also illuminate deeper problems when a politician invokes their Christian faith and attacks refugees as defending their “values.” What in the name of baby Jesus is going on here?
Sadly, this isn’t even the first time in recent years we’ve seen Christian politicians pushing anti-refugee policies at Christmastime. So this issue of A Public Witness looks back at the attacks on Syrian refugees in 2015 and the abysmal U.S. record on assisting refugees since then to help us consider what to make of the attacks on refugees today.