Republicans in Congress Push Extreme Anti-Refugee Bill That Mirrors Trump's Xenophobia

Backer of proposed House bill has close ties to gay-bashing anti-mosque crusader Bryan Fischer.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte, on left, and Raúl Labrador, on right, introduced a draconian anti-refugee bill into the House on Monday.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

A handful of far-right lawmakers are advancing a draconian bill that would slash the already meager resettlement of refugees in the United States, allow governors to boot those they disapprove of and further criminalize people fleeing war and poverty—proposals that echo Donald Trump's basic platform.  

The euphemistically titled Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act was introduced to the House on Monday by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

The legislation, slated for markup on Wednesday, would permit state governors and "chief executives" of "localities" to override the federal government and unilaterally turn away refugees. Last November, in the wake of the Paris attacks, 30 governors across the country vowed to exclude Syrian refugees from settling in their states, even though they did not have the authority to do so.

The bill calls for people to be stripped of their refugee status if they return to the country from which they fled for any amount of time and any reason, including the death of a loved one. Such a provision, if passed, would present a major obstacle to family reunification.

Even worse, the proposed legislation calls for further criminalization of refugees by requiring “regular security vetting of each admitted refugee until the refugee adjusts immigration status to lawful permanent resident,” according to a summary by the bill’s backers. The bill would the Department of Homeland Security to implement a “fraudulent document detection program for refugee processing” and madate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to monitor the social media postings of asylum seekers.

“This language would essentially require that people prove again and again that they are refugees, and it would impose constant surveillance when they are already going through what is one of the most stringent process out there,” said Drew Proctor, advocacy director of Win Without War, which is circulating a petition opposing the legislation. “This is one more way to treat these people as less than human,” Proctor told AlterNet.

The vetting process for people seeking refugee status in the United States is already incredibly burdensome, and even prohibitive, including at least 21 steps that can take years. 

Perhaps most disturbingly, the bill would set the refugee ceiling at 60,000 a year, described as an “extremely low number” by Jennifer Quigley of Human Rights First.

Over the past five years, the United States has taken in just 3,000 Syrian refugees, a fraction of the 4.8 million who are registered with the United Nations. Obama pledged to welcome in 10,000 Syrians during the fiscal year of 2016, but halfway through has admitted only 1,100. In contrast, major human rights organizations have called for at least 100,000 Syrians to be admitted this year, with some demanding open borders, given the role of the U.S. in driving military escalation and displacement throughout the region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to escalate raids and deportations of Central American refugees, despite the fact that many are fleeing crises of violence and poverty worsened by U.S. policies including the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the American-backed coup in Honduras.

Notably, the legislation calls for the Department of Homeland Security to give “priority consideration” to persecuted religious minorities. While the legislation does not specifically call for Christians to receive favorable treatment, there is reason to be concerned. Labrador is a backer of Ted Cruz, who has called for Christian Syrian refugees to be granted safe haven in the Untied States while Muslims are turned away.

In recent years, Labrador has closely associated himself with radio host and American Family association staffer Bryan Fischer, who argued in October for the closure of U.S. mosques on the basis that only Christianity is constitutionally protected. “Bottom line: the Founders’ Constitution permits States to prohibit the building of mosques,” Fischer wrote. “For the safety and security of the American people, perhaps the time for them to start doing it is now.”

Fischer, who has been referred to as a “professional hatemonger,” attracted considerable criticism last year when he railed against what he calls the “Big Gay” lobby, which he said “is not about marriage equality but homosexual supremacy.”

Labrador's staff did not respond to a request for a phone interview about the legislation.

According to Proctor, it is “too early to tell what is going to happen” with this new bill. However, he said his organization is determined not to take any chances, given the anti-refugee climate, including the Obama administration’s approval late last year of new visa rules to discriminate against people of Iraqi, Iranian, Sudanese, and Syrian descent. “We are going to be fighting this,” he said.

“Refugees are not what threatens the fabric of American society,” B. Loewe, spokesperson for #Not1MoreDeportation, told AlterNet. “Hate and intolerance promoted by Donald Trump and people like the bill’s sponsors are the real threat.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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