Nativism Watch

Anti-refugee activity finds home in Congress, Fox News and community halls


Lindsay Schubiner • Sep 30, 2015

The anti-refugee movement is capitalizing on the intensive media attention focused on Syria and the refugees fleeing violence and persecution with a flurry of activity to organize opposition to refugee resettlement program in the United States. This movement draws significantly from both organized anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activity, relying on familiar racist narratives to advance their goals.

Anti-refugee leaders tap into xenophobia, racist fear of demographic change, discredited arguments that newcomers will be an economic drain, and fear of refugees as terrorists, all to deny people in vulnerable situations a chance at safety and security.

Unfortunately, the anti-refugee movement is gaining traction—in Congress, grassroots meetings, and in the media. Here’s a sample of what they’ve been up to and what’s to come:

Brace for anti-refugee arguments in the halls of Congress

This Thursday may bring more signs that anti-refugee activity has worked its way well into the halls of Congress.

A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold an oversight hearing on the fiscal and security implications of the Administration’s FY 2016 Refugee Resettlement Program. Because this is an oversight hearing, the witness list is solely composed of Administration officials. However, we can expect to hear senators parroting the very same concerns popularized by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim leaders and based on dubious research from the anti-immigrant think tank, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a close Congressional ally of CIS and the anti-immigrant movement, is chairman of the subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest and will preside over the hearing.

Read: Sen. Sessions is sure to be a disaster as new leader of key immigration panel

The committee’s decision to focus on fiscal and security implications of the refugee program—rather than the humanitarian or economic growth implications—already reinforces this anti-refugee bias. The anti-refugee movement regularly claims that refugees pose a security threat and are possible terrorists, playing on anti-Muslim sentiment. Another frequent argument is that refugees are a drain on federal, state, and local coffers, which ignores the potential long-term economic benefits of accepting refugees.

This hearing won’t be the first time blatant anti-refugee sentiment is voiced on Capitol Hill. Nativist ally Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) has even introduced an extreme—if ill-fated—bill that would immediately suspend the admission of refugees to the United States.

We can only hope that media coverage of the hearing includes a sober look at the issues rather than trading in hyperbole, fear, and anti-Muslim bias.

South Carolina emerges as locus of anti-refugee activity

On September 20th, the Remembrance Project (TRP) held a “Spartanburg Refugee Summit” to instill fear among South Carolina residents that refugees are dangerous and make false claims that refugees are not screened for security. According to an email from America First Latinos, an off-shoot of the Remembrance Project, TRP founder Maria Espinoza “warn[ed] South Carolinians of the dangers of not vetting foreigners and whose criminal backgrounds are unknown.” The email continues, “And yet, these people are being placed in our neighborhoods and given free access to our families.”

The Remembrance Project is a group that spins tragedy into political opportunity; their stated purpose is to “honor and remember Americans who have been killed by illegal aliens.” TRP coordinates closely with the organized anti-immigrant movement.

On September 14th, refugee resettlement was the primary topic at the GOP women’s club meeting in Greer, South Carolina, where one local activist argued that the refugee resettlement program is “a Trojan horse that’s going to bring some questionable people to our society.”

The New York Times picked up on the anti-refugee movement’s recent activity in South Carolina—as well as some of the outrageous arguments made by anti-refugee speakers. “Do we shoot them?” a man in the audience at the Spartanburg Refugee Summit reportedly asked, which garnered laughter and applause. “Come on! I mean, this is crazy.”

Fox News does it again

Fox News, ever the beacon of responsible reporting, recently played a video of a group of people shouting “God is great!” in Arabic on a train in Europe. The Fox News reporter claimed the video demonstrated why some people were worried that by accepting refugees, the U.S. would be “opening its doors to potential terrorists.” The reporter failed to mention that the video was first posted on YouTube in 2010, long before the Syrian refugee crisis began.

Such blatant anti-Muslim (and anti-factual) fearmongering has no place in the media, even on Fox News.

Luckily, John Oliver called them on it—and more. Watch below:

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