WASHINGTON — The three Muslim members of Congress said in a joint statement Tuesday they were “horrified” by a Republican proposal to expel Palestinians from the United States.
In an echo of former Donald Trump’s infamous “Muslim ban,” last week Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) introduced a bill that would bar Palestinians from traveling to the U.S. and revoke any visas issued to Palestinians in the U.S. since Oct. 1. Zinke served as Trump’s Interior secretary before coming to Congress this year.
“Let’s be clear: using the full power of the state to target and persecute a particular ethnic group or nationality is fascism and pure bigotry,” Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Tuesday.
“This legislation — by a former cabinet official no less — directly violates the U.S. Constitution, and would illegally destroy the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian immigrants who live in and contribute to American society,” Carson, Omar and Tlaib said.
Zinke’s legislation and the Democrats’ response come amid rising threats against Jewish and Muslim Americans in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s subsequent siege of the Gaza Strip.
“I don’t have any malice against the Palestinians per se,” Zinke told HuffPost on Tuesday, before the Muslim lawmakers put out their statement. “I don’t have any confidence this administration will vet or screen anybody.”
In a press release on Thursday, Zinke described his legislation as necessary to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the asylum system to enter the U.S., citing reports of Syrian refugees committing crimes in the U.S. and abroad. He also pointed to a Customs and Border Patrol memo warning that potential terrorists “inspired by, or reacting to, the current Israel-Hamas conflict may attempt travel to or from the area of hostilities in the Middle East via circuitous transit across the Southwest border.”
The Department of Homeland Security said in September that border patrol had apprehended 160 people whose names were on a terrorist watch list this year, up from 100 last year.
Zinke acknowledged his bill was symbolic and had no chance of becoming law.
“Do I think the president’s gonna sign it? Not a chance,” Zinke said, adding that the legislation was meant to highlight weaknesses in immigration law. “I don’t have any malice towards Palestinians. I have Muslim friends, believe me.”
Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric has spiked since the start of the Oct. 7 conflict.
The White House announced last Wednesday a new initiative to battle the rising Islamophobia, alongside a parallel national strategy aimed to combat antisemitism. The announcement, which has been in the works for months, was accelerated ahead of the recent spike of anti-Muslim rhetoric nationwide.
Last month in Illinois, a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy was killed in an alleged anti-Muslim hate crime after his landlord stabbed him and his mother in their home.
In California, an Arab Muslim student at Stanford University was hospitalized after being struck last week in a hit-and-run that authorities are investigating as a hate crime. A Florida man is also facing hate crime charges after he allegedly assaulted a Muslim postal worker last month, ripping her hijab and punching her in the face. In Michigan, a man was arrested after allegedly threatening violence against Palestinian Americans in Dearborn on social media.
Carson, Omar and Tlaib said the kind of dangerous political rhetoric from Republicans, including Zinke, led to the death of the 6-year-old who was killed in Illinois.
“This targeting does not just put Palestinian-American lives at risk, but all Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans, Sikhs, and other people of color who share our identities,” the Democrats said.
Tlaib, meanwhile, faces votes on Republican censure resolutions on Tuesday over her allegedly antisemitic criticism of Israel.