A hot-button issue this presidential cycle has been the Obama administration’s effort to resettle thousands of mostly Muslim Syrian refugees displaced by ISIS and the nation’s civil war to the United States.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has gone as far as proposing an across-the-board temporary ban on Muslim refugees until the country can get a better handle on terrorism threats. He has since revised his proposal to say his ban would pertain to those from regions of the world that breed terror.
But either way, that would mean barring Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. until further notice.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has proposed vastly expanding the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S., despite warnings from Republicans and administration officials that the vetting process for migrants from the war-torn nation is potentially vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.
Against this backdrop the Obama administration is already hastily processing Syrian refugees into the U.S. While the administration has admitted 10,554 Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war in mid-March 2011, according to data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, not a single Syrian refugee has been resettled in Alabama.
Alabama is one of 10 states and the District of Columbia not to have received any of these refugees.
Alabama politicians haven’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for these refugees. Back in January, Gov. Robert Bentley announced the state was suing the Obama administration in federal court, alleging the federal government had violated the Refugee Act of 1980 for failing to consult the individual states on the placement of those refugees.
Others, including Rep. Bradley Byrne, have made it clear the timing isn’t right for Syrian refugees, not just in Alabama but throughout the entire country.
“Ultimately, the most basic responsibility of the federal government is to keep the American people safe, and we should never forget that,” Byrne wrote in an op-ed last November. “I believe allowing a mass influx of Syrian refugees into the United States would compromise that responsibility, so I remain committed to stopping the program.”
Most Americans are in agreement with Alabama’s elected officials. A slew of polling conducted at the end of last year when the topic was in the forefront of the news cycle show the country in opposition to allowing Syrian refugees by a 2-to-1 margin.
When broken down by political affiliation, a Gallup poll on the issue shows most Democrats are for allowing the settlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., by a 57/40 split. But independents and Republicans, by a 37/58 split and a 15/84 split, respectively, disapprove of the settlement of those refugees in this country.
Traditionally, Americans have not supported allowing refugees to come to the U.S. going back to 1939, according to that same Gallup report, including from Germany at the outset of World War II, from Europe after World War II and the onset of the Cold War, from Vietnam after the Vietnam War and now Syria. The lone exception, according to Gallup, was support for refugees from Kosovo in 1999.
If you want to know how Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, capturing that sentiment may very well be a primary reason, because it is the one issue on which Democrats appear to be out of step with the American public.
As noted earlier, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has said she would support an increase in the number of refugees.
“Look, we’re facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II, and I think the United States has to do more, and I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in,” Clinton said during an interview last September.
Sixty-five-thousand refugees would be a 550 percent increase in the 10,000 President Obama has allowed.
While Alabama has avoided receiving any of these refugees so far, there are states in play during this election season that have accepted hundreds of them. Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania each have taken in over 500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
With the threat of terrorism, especially in Florida after the Pulse nightclub shooting earlier this year, this ought to be a topic Trump could really use to hammer his Democratic opponent, and he has.
At a rally in Kissimmee, Florida, last week, he used the 550 percent increase statistic in his speech.
“Here is the bad news,” Trump said. “Crooked Hillary wants to allow — she wants to allow 550 percent more people are [from] that area to come into our country. We don’t know where they are put — you know, the government puts them all over the place.”
Unfortunately for Trump, he’s been sidetracked by other issues, which have not lent themselves to allowing him to make as much hay of the refugee issue as he likely could. But that doesn’t mean Republicans running in down ballot contests can’t.
One of the fears in this election has been that with Trump at the top of the ticket, congressional Republicans in swing districts and states face defeat because there will be either a swell of straight-ticket Democratic votes or a lack of turnout by traditional Republican voters because of the lack of enthusiasm for Trump.
If you’re senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) or Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and facing a tough re-election bid, this ought to be one part of Trump’s platform to embrace. It probably should include a little more nuance than declaring an outright ban on Muslim immigration to the country, like a halt on an influx of refugees. But it isn’t something Republicans should run away from and a look at Alabama’s playbook might be a place to start.