In 2013, the federal government shutdown for 16 days because the GOP added language to a spending bill that would have defunded the Affordable Care Act. In the end, Republicans actually had to concede more than they would have in the original spending bill, and the public widely laid the blame for the shutdown at the feet of Republican lawmakers. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, by the end of the 16-day period, when asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Republicans in Congress are handling negotiations over the federal budget?” 81 percent of registered voters said they disapprove; 19 percent “somewhat” and 62 percent “strongly” disapproved.
Two years later, despite terrible results last time, the GOP may be willing to shutdown the government again, this time for the sake of shutting our doors to refugees. If Congress doesn’t pass the omnibus spending bill before December 11, the government will shut down. This time though, instead of roughly 40 House Republicans bringing the government to its knees, at least 76 House members are apparently willing to risk the same result.
The Monday after the Paris attacks, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) began circulating a letter calling on the House leadership to attach language to the must-pass government spending bill that would “prevent federal funds from being used to admit to the United States refugees from Syria, the Middle East and North Africa” until Congress passes a joint resolution approving the use of funds for that purpose. Within two days, the letter had 57 co-signers. As of now, it has 75 co-signers. The language requested in the letter includes much of the language of Babin’s very own anti-refugee bill, introduced back in July, called the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015, or H.R. 3314.
The fact that House Republicans are coalescing around language written in July points to the fact that Republicans are seizing the opportunity created by the public’s heightened fear of refugees after the Paris attacks to advance an agenda they’ve had for quite some time. Instead of trying to actually improve the vetting process, or address legitimate security concerns such as people on terror watch lists being able to buy guns legally, Republicans are trying to prevent the most desperate refugees from entering the country.
In fact, the recent backlash against refugees has much more to do with the anti-immigration stance of the Republican Party than it has to do with any a legitimate response to national security concerns. Numbers USA, a well-known anti-immigration lobby, has created a site called http://www.saynotoamnesty.com, which is not a site about denying undocumented immigrants amnesty as the name might lead you to believe, but rather a site dedicated to amassing petition signatures telling Congress to make sure the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015 is attached to the upcoming government spending bill.
For Republicans, conflating undocumented immigrants with refugees kills two birds with one stone: advancing the causes of anti-refugee Republicans and anti-immigrant Republicans at the same time. A false narrative that marries the pre-existing nativist streak in current Republican politics with post-Paris security concerns has surely compelled some Republicans who’ve never been vocally against accepting refugees in the past to take a stand against refugees now. For people who are fearful of refugees but aren’t necessarily concerned about undocumented immigrants, it introduces them to organizations like Numbers USA, which paints itself as “pro-immigration” despite the fact that it wants to end birthright citizenship and crackdown on sanctuary cities, to name two of its many atrocious policy prescriptions.
An editorial in La Opinión, a prominent Spanish-language newspaper published in Los Angeles, eloquently decried the backlash against refugees and the conflation of refugees and immigrants:
It is sad to see that the reaction to terrorism is to build border walls and ignore a humanitarian crisis out of fear. Terrorism triumphs when it succeeds in intimidating governments and civilians. Leadership is shown by rising to challenges posed by the situation, not by taking advantage of them to feed existing fear and resentment against immigrants and foreigners among the electorate.
Feeding that fear and resentment is exactly what groups like Numbers USA and Representatives like Brian Babin aim to do.
Of course, blocking refugees is only one of many heinous policy provisions Republicans are seeking to attach to the spending bill. They’ve also called for language deregulating campaign finance laws, defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding the Green Climate Fund, and defunding Obamacare. But when asked whether the spending bill would include provisions to defund Planned Parenthood, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, “Security is becoming the top issue I’m hearing [from legislators], especially in the last couple of weeks,” suggesting that Republican leadership will prioritize blocking refugees in the spending bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking to whether or not he would include language to block refugees, said, “we have a funding at the end of the year bill, so we’re looking at all of our options… We’ve got to make sure we’re protecting ourselves.”
If Paul Ryan takes the bottom up approach to leadership that he promised; if he caves to the growing chorus of xenophobic voices saying we should close our doors to refugees, we may have another government shutdown to look forward to. Whether or not a shutdown occurs, the fact that so many Republicans are willing to risk taking the blame for another shutdown demonstrates just how determined they are to shut our doors to refugees. Apparently, the irony of pushing this hateful policy during the holiday season is lost on them. Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when refugees fleeing unimaginable violence are the most vulnerable in the winter cold.