America's xenophobic rush: Elected official calls for refugee internment camps, majority of Americans now want to slam the door

Where we are: A Syrian family is turned away from Indiana and a Virginia mayor cites WWII to defend his city's ban

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 18, 2015 10:37PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Bernadett Szabo)
(Reuters/Bernadett Szabo)

So much for civil discourse. The national debate on Syrian refugees following last Friday's attacks in Paris only took two days to completely devolve into a fact-free emotional mess of speculation and inflamed rhetoric.

On Monday morning, the nation only had two governor's brazen enough to call for an outright ban on all refugees from the war torn nation in the aftermath of the devastating terror attacks, when initial reports indicated that one of the at least seven Paris attackers carried a Syrian passport. So far, officials have reported that the other attackers were Europeans. By day's end on Monday, however, 34 governors had rushed to join their compatriots in declaring America, land of the free, as inhospitable to war refugees.

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie led the pack with his heartless declaration that his state wouldn't even accept “3-year-old orphans.” Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee have since called for a suspension of all visas from Middle Eastern countries. Ted Cruz, the son of a political refugee from Cuba, offered a religious exemption only for Christian Syrians. But every GOP presidential candidate has forcefully turned their backs on Syrian refugees, scapegoating victims of war as ISIS sympathizers and potential terrorists.

"Paris should be a wake-up call for the Washington establishment and many in the GOP who support open borders and out-of-control amnesty," Huckabee warned. 

Today, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, invoked the ugly history of Japanese internment during World War II to defend his callous decision to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in his town. "I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then," David A. Bowers wrote.

One GOP lawmaker isn't just invoking past internment camps, he is seemingly calling for a return to such camps in 2015. According to the Kansas City Star, a Missouri lawmaker is in such a panic that he has called for a special legislative session to stop "the potential Islamization of Missouri."

"Unless I'm mistaken, a practicing muslim can do whatever is necessary for the 'good' of the faith -- telling 'fibs' is a small part of what they might do," Republican state Rep. Mike Moon wrote to Republican Speaker of the House Todd Richardson. "Our preference, as a nation, should be to place the refugees in camps so that they can be properly cared for and returned safely home when the time is right."

Indiana Governor Mike Pence directed his state's social services agency to issue a letter to a Syrian refugee family waiting for three years in Jordan, according to the New York Times, informing them that their relocation should be “suspended or redirected to another state that is willing to accept Syrian placements.” The family was set to arrive in Indianapolis today but has been diverted to Connecticut, where Syrian refugee have not yet been rejected.

And it is not just politicians. Now, a new poll shows that the xenophobic fearmongering has worked -- most Americans want the U.S. to stop letting in Syrian refugees. According to a new Bloomberg poll out Wednesday, 53 percent of Americans say the U.S. should not accept any further Syrian refugees, while only 28 percent support the president's plan to resettle 10,000 over the next two years.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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