The only real takeaway from Tuesday’s GOP debate in Las Vegas was that Republican candidates intend to use terrorism and ISIS as a pretext to place additional restrictions on immigration, and to use national security as a tool in their efforts to target, criminalize, and persecute Black and brown immigrants currently residing in the United States.
It should concern us all that conservative candidates are using recent terrorist attacks as justification to further dehumanize and exploit undocumented people. Terrorism is a problem, but conflating terrorism with immigration breeds hysteria that targets already vulnerable populations—not to mention it’s simply irresponsible and intellectually lazy.
Sadly, that was exactly the line of thinking on display Tuesday.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called for stricter controls on those who immigrate to the United States, along with stricter border security. Specifically, he would like to ban immigrants from 33 primarily Muslim countries, because as Paul said, “terrorists have been using our legal immigration system.” This is a reference, I’m guessing, to the K-1 nonimmigrant visa, also known as the “fiancé visa,” which enables someone from another country to travel to the United States and marry their U.S. citizen partner within 90 days. Tashfeen Malik, one of the accused shooters in the San Bernardino massacre, was able to enter the United States with such a visa and wed Syed Rizwan Farook.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Donald Trump called for “closing parts of the Internet” because “ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet.” This is the same man who wants to ban Muslims and non-American Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS from coming to the United States; deport the 11 million undocumented people currently residing here; and close off the country’s southern border with “a great wall.”
Ben Carson said he is in favor of monitoring United States-based mosques for “anti-America sentiment,” saying at the debate, “We have to get rid of all of this [politically correct] stuff.” He then asserted that being worried about being referred to as Islamophobic is “craziness.” It seems Carson is operating with the same definition of free speech as many Internet trolls: the right to say dangerous, dishonest things with zero repercussions.
Perhaps one of the most inflammatory comments of the evening came from Mike Huckabee at the undercard debate, who said Muslims should welcome outsiders to survey their mosques. “If Islam is as wonderful and peaceful as its adherents say, shouldn’t they be begging us to all come in and listen to these peaceful sermons? Shouldn’t they be begging us all to come and listen and bring the FBI so we’d all want to convert to Islam?” the former Arkansas governor said.
Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a “sweeping data dragnet” targeting people who are not American citizens and who are applying to come into this country. This would allow the U.S. government to monitor their private social media interactions. Carly Fiorina shared similar sentiments, saying that if parents and employers are checking social media, why can’t the U.S. government?
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) would like to give the FBI, the NSA, and other intelligence agencies “all the resources they need to keep us safe” and “monitor un-American activities in our country.”
On the largest public stage, for arguably the most important role in the world, Republican presidential candidates promoted Islamophobia and xenophobia, while not-so-discreetly implying that U.S. citizens’ fears of “the other”—Black and brown immigrants currently residing in the United States—are warranted.
For years, conservatives against immigration have pushed forth the narrative that the Mexican and Central American asylum seekers crossing the border are “potential terrorists” and a threat to national security. This unfounded theory has especially gained momentum in the state of Texas, despite the fact that a bulk of those attempting to enter the country are young women and their children fleeing violence in their countries of origin.
Throughout the evening, it wasn’t uncommon for candidates to discuss immigration and terrorism in the same terms, as if they go hand-in-hand. In an interview about terrorism before the debate, Paul told CNN that “our system is overwhelmed” and there are “11 million people said to be illegal in our country … We have a system that is so broken that I don’t think we can stop any terrorism.”
Our immigration system is broken, primarily in the way that it isn’t working. Americans routinely call for undocumented immigrants to “get in line” or come here “the legal way,” while not understanding the bureaucratic bullshit, cost, or time that it involves. The average wait time for someone from Mexico to become an American citizen, for example, is 18 years. That is 18 years of paying taxes and contributing to this country with no access to services, no protections, and no promise that they won’t be ripped from their family and placed in deportation proceedings. Any effort to alleviate these conditions gets blocked in court. The answer to a broken immigration system is not to complicate and lengthen the process even further on account of terrorism, especially considering the Department of Homeland Security already debunked other ties between immigration and terrorism last year.
After the Paris terrorist attack occurred, 31 U.S. states refused to accept Syrian refugees, despite the fact that all of the attackers were believed to be EU citizens. Farook, the second suspected shooter in the San Bernardino attack, was also an American citizen. Let’s not forget the reason that GOP candidates are calling for the monitoring of private social media of non-American citizens is because Malik was widely reported to have expressed support for “jihad and martyrdom” on Facebook, but the FBI announced Wednesday that was false.
Undocumented immigrants are already widely believed to have no constitutional protection, so allowing the U.S. government to monitor anything it deems to be “un-American” is troubling. Who, specifically, gets to dictate what is “un-American” and on what grounds? I have no doubt this will bleed over into monitoring the social media of undocumented activists, some of whom self-identify as “radical” in their politics. Is protesting against the U.S. immigration system that deports “low-priority” migrants in record numbers un-American? Is criticizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for profiting off the imprisonment of mothers and their children un-American? Is simply being an immigrant un-American? I thought that was America’s most beloved narrative. When starry-eyed politicians proudly say, “We are a nation of immigrants,” I guess pride is only elicited when we are talking about European ones.
Recent terrorist attacks are being used as an opportunity by GOP candidates to tie terrorism to immigration entirely, further stigmatizing the already vulnerable population of undocumented immigrants and refugees currently residing in the United States. The message being sent is: It’s OK to terrorize “potential terrorists.” Creating a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee must be what Trump means when he says he’s going to “make America great again,” and it’s not an America I want to live in.