Oct 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

2024 GOP candidates: U.S. should reject Gaza refugees

Illustration of the Statue of Liberty holding a "no" symbol.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

As the war in Gaza threatens to create massive numbers of Palestinian refugees, all of the leading Republican presidential candidates in the U.S. have come out with a similar message: Those refugees shouldn't be allowed here.

Why it matters: The rush to take hardline positions on refugees — before the Biden administration has announced any plans to accept them — reflects Republicans' eagerness to tap into concerns about immigration and national security as the 2024 elections approach.

Zoom in: Former President Trump, who for years has shaped the GOP's rhetoric on immigration — often in racial tones — wants to ban travel from Gaza and predominantly Muslim countries including Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.

  • It would repeat a controversial ban he implemented as president — and that was reversed by President Biden.
  • Trump also suggests deporting "aliens with jihadist sympathies," and revoking student visas of "radical anti-American and anti-Semitic foreigners."
  • "If you're coming from somewhere full of people who want to kill Americans, we will not let you in," he said at a speech in Clive, Iowa, on Monday.
  • At another Iowa event, he read the lyrics from "The Snake," a song released by Al Wilson in 1968. Trump used the song to compare immigrants and refugees to killer snakes, warning about the dangers of welcoming them into the country.

Trump's remarks followed those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said last weekend the U.S. should not take in any Palestinian refugees fleeing Gaza because they "are all antisemitic," and called on his 2024 opponents to "follow suit."

Between the lines: The three other leading GOP contenders — Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley also say the U.S. shouldn't accept Gaza refugees, with some differences.

  • The Republicans' statements — coming as the U.S. is wrestling with how to deal with waves of migrants crossing the southwest border — contrast sharply with those of the Biden administration, which has emphasized distinguishing the Palestinian people from Hamas, the terror group that attacked Israel.
  • "Civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas' atrocities," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, after the U.S. pressured Israel into resuming the water supply to southern Gaza.

Reality check: There currently no ongoing discussions of Gaza refugees coming to the U.S., officials say.

  • The more than 2 million people living in the Gaza — now trying to survive Israeli airstrikes and bracing for a land assault — are locked on land surrounded by blockades imposed by Israel and Egypt.

What they're saying: Scott said late Monday in a speech at Georgetown University that although he opposes allowing Palestinian refugees into the U.S., "I don't think that they're all antisemitic I just can't tell you who's who."

  • Ramaswamy — the son of Indian immigrants who has vowed to end birthright citizenship — told Axios in a statement that as president he'd "look at helping facilitate (Palestinians') emigration to other countries.
  • "But this is not an issue where we should risk U.S. security or trade off the well-being of Americans here in the homeland," his statement said.

A spokesperson for Haley told Axios that she "opposes the U.S. taking in Gazans. She thinks Hamas-supporting countries like Iran, Qatar, and Turkey should take any refugees."

  • But in a recent interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, she distinguished between Hamas members and other Palestinians.
  • "There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule," she said, in response to a clip of DeSantis saying all Gazans are antisemitic.
  • "America's always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists."
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