The growing US backlash against Syrian refugees continued to escalate on Tuesday, as at least 27 governors announced that they would close their states to asylum seekers fleeing that country’s civil war.
GOP presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, sought to one-up one another in ways to limit the number of refugees the United States takes in from Syria and the greater Middle East. Senator Ted Cruz called for admission to this country to be limited to Syrian Christians, a position former Florida governor Jeb Bush seemed to adopt over the weekend. On Monday, Senator Rand Paul announced that he would be proposing legislation to suspend visas for refugees from Syria and 30 other countries.
Speaking at the G20 economic summit in Turkey, President Obama promised not to be deterred in his plan to admit 10,000 Syrians in the coming year. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said.
The rising anti-refugee sentiment comes in the wake of attacks in Paris—believed to have been carried out to some degree by ISIS—that killed 129 and injured hundreds more in the worst violence France has seen since the end of World War II. The nationalist rhetoric has been spurred in part by initial reports, now called into question, that suggested one of the Paris attackers may have traveled through Greece alongside refugees. Europe as a whole has struggled to respond to the increasing number of people who have sought asylum on the continent. A record 218,000 refugees arrived in Europe in October alone, matching the number for all of 2014.
By contrast, the United States has taken in fewer than 2,000 Syrians in total. Last month, the first month after the White House’s promise to scale up its response and accept 10,000 Syrian refugees within a year, the US accepted just 187 refugees. At that rate, it would take nearly five years to reach the 10,000 refugee benchmark. The increasingly hostile political climate is threatening to derail the already-meager US response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
On Capitol Hill, Representative Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security committee, released a bill calling for Congress—not the executive branch—to be in charge of resettling Syrians, on the basis that current security measures aren’t rigorous enough. Representative Peter King has called for additional surveillance of American Muslims in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.