The war between Hamas and Israel has prompted some American politicians to call for a ban on refugees from Gaza. Other politicos want to deport student protesters who express pro-Palestinian sentiments, or exclude Palestinians from the U.S. altogether.

I suppose that in a time of war, there's an impulse to pick a side. Israel or Palestine. Muslim or Jew. Us or Them. And so in theory, I can understand why some leaders would want to punish those who appear to be supporting our adversaries. But as I see it, painting all Palestinians or all Muslims as Hamas supporters is counterproductive and harmful to our national interests, not to mention untrue.

The names of those calling for bans and deportations will not be a surprise. Donald Trump has indicated that if re-elected, he would revoke student visas for "radical, anti-American and antisemitic foreigners." Ron DeSantis says of foreign students who he believes support Hamas, "You don’t have a right to be here on a visa. You don’t have a right to be studying in the United States." He has also accuses fellow presidential candidate Nikki Haley of trying to "import" Palestinians into the U.S. Two Republican members of Congress have introduced the cleverly-named Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission (GAZA) Act, which seeks to prevent the Biden administration from issuing visas to people with Palestinian Authority passports.

To those of us who support Israel and who are concerned about antisemitism, I can see why such sentiments might be appealing. Certainly some of the pro-Palestinian protests are antisemitic and pro-Hamas. For example, a letter from 30+ organizations at Harvard University "hold[s] the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence." These organizations cannot even bring themselves to condemn the killing and kidnapping of children and grandmothers. Worse, there has been a nation-wide rise in antisemitic incidents, including vandalism and assaults. It's only natural that we should seek to prevent supporters of Hamas or other terrorists groups from coming to the United States. But that is not what the proposed bans would do, and there are a few reasons why I think this is the wrong approach.

First, banning all Palestinians or all foreign students who support Palestinians sends a message that we--the United States--view all such people as terrorists. This will reduce our ability to serve as an honest broker in the region and it will further narrow the space available for dialogue--it is difficult to get people to listen to you if you are calling them terrorists. Also, by labeling all Palestinians as terrorists, we further push the Palestinian people into a corner, which is harmful for them individually, and also plays into the hands of Hamas, which draws support from desperation and hopelessness.

Second, there is widespread support around the world for the political aspirations of the Palestinian people and for an end to the Israeli bombing campaign that has harmed and killed so many civilians. If we label everyone who holds these views as terrorists, we marginalize ourselves on the issue, which reduces our ability to influence events.

In terms of our humanitarian immigration system, blocking refugees from Gaza (or Palestinians in general) is diametrically opposed to the entire raison d'etre for asylum. We grant protection to people who face harm from persecutors, such as Hamas. When politicians call for a ban on Gazan refugees, they are essentially endorsing Hamas's ability to persecute its opponents. Wouldn't it make more sense to support Palestinians who oppose Hamas? One way to do this is to offer protection to such people when they need it.

Also, of course, our asylum and immigration system has numerous safeguards to prevent terrorists and their supporters from coming to the United States. If any non-citizen is found to have provided "material support" to a terrorist organization (and Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization), they are subject to deportation (and criminal prosecution). "Material support" is broadly defined, and includes providing funds to a terrorist group, endorsing or espousing terrorist activity, and distributing literature for a terrorist group. These rules have been in effect for a long time, and if noncitizens are found to have supported Hamas, they can be deported.

Finally, the idea of banning Palestinian refugees is a solution in search of a problem. That's because our country has historically admitted very few refugees from Palestine. In the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2023, we resettled a grand total of 56 Palestinian refugees, which is consistent with prior years.

Given that there are already strong safeguards in place related to terrorism and that not many Palestinian refugees come here in the first place, it's clear that some of the calls for a ban are just cheap political rhetoric. For example, Donald Trump claims that "members of Hamas... were 'pouring' over the southern U.S. border." In response, a DHS official called the former President's statement "false," and Mr. Trump produced no evidence in support of his contention (as usual). But it hardly matters. Mr. Trump and other Republicans seek to frighten and enrage people with the hope that it will help get them elected.

In these sad times, it's difficult to know how we can help make things better. But it's quite clear what will make things worse. The proposed ban encourages hatred towards Palestinians and Muslims, conflates Palestinians and their supporters with Hamas, and reduces opportunities for dialogue. We should reject this divisive and counterproductive proposal.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: