WASHINGTON — Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) introduced legislation on Thursday to ban Palestinians from the United States in an echo of former President Donald Trump’s infamous “Muslim ban.”
The bill would pause visas for Palestinians and go a step further by revoking any visas issued since Oct. 1.
Zinke claimed the policy would protect Americans from the threat of Palestinian terrorists abusing the immigration system in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel last month and Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
“I don’t trust the Biden Administration any more than I do the Palestinian Authority to screen who is allowed to come into the United States,” Zinke said in a release. “This is the most anti-Hamas immigration legislation I have seen and it’s well deserved.”
Though the legislation specifically targets Palestinians who obtained visas in the last month, the title of Zinke’s press release makes his broader sentiment clear: “Zinke Introduces Bill to Expel Palestinians from the United States.” The summary says the measure would direct the Department of Homeland Security to “identify and remove covered aliens without lawful status,” including those whose lawful status was just revoked.
Zinke’s release cited attacks by Syrian refugees in the U.S. and other countries, but none by Palestinians. FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers this week that the Israel-Hamas conflict could inspire more violence in the U.S., citing threats against Jews and the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian boy in Illinois last month.
“On top of the homegrown violent extremists and domestic violent extremist threat, we also cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization may exploit the current conflict to conduct attacks here on our own soil,” Wray said.
Despite the fact that Palestinians make up the largest stateless community in the world, the U.S. has only resettled roughly 2,000 of them in the last 20 years, according to the Migration Policy Institute, largely due to the fact that most Palestinians are ineligible for traditional visas and face exceptional immigration barriers.
Israelis, by contrast, no longer need visas to enter the U.S., a policy updated just weeks before the Oct. 7 conflict.
“Long-standing legal and logistical barriers make it exceedingly challenging for those in Gaza to resettle in the region, let alone resettle in the U.S. The political grandstanding we’ve seen so much of lately is a discriminatory solution searching for a nonexistent problem,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a refugee resettlement agency.
Zinke was appointed secretary of the Department of the Interior by Trump, who campaigned on a promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and then followed through with restrictions on people traveling to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries. Zinke was elected to the House last year.
Zinke’s bill, co-sponsored by 10 other members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, stands no chance of becoming law but represents an escalation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric from the right. Zinke made no effort to differentiate between Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and residents of the Palestinian territories, not all of whom even live in the Gaza Strip where Hamas operates.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), earlier this week forced the House to consider a censure resolution against Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the sole Palestinian American serving in Congress. The House rejected the resolution, which falsely claimed that Tlaib had led an anti-Israel “insurrection” in a House office building last month.
“She’s literally a terrorist in the House of Representatives,” Greene told HuffPost this week.