For just under two years, Ryan Zinke served as Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior. In late 2018, though, he resigned under the weight of more than a dozen federal investigations into his actions. Those probes would linger until well into 2022 — at which point Zinke was favored to be elected to the House from Montana in the midterm elections. He was, narrowly.
So now Zinke is Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). And under that banner last week, he filed his third piece of legislation, a bill that he touted on his website as intended to “Expel Palestinians from the United States.”
The rationale is unsubtle. Zinke’s legislation pivots from the conflict between Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, and Israel to suggest broadly that Palestinians seeking to enter the United States are inherently untrustworthy. It is legislation aimed at killing several birds with one stone: casting Palestinians as inherently dangerous, criticizing President Biden on immigration and earning attention from the right-wing attention-granters. Predictably, several of his Republican colleagues quickly signed on to the bill, including Reps. Ronny Jackson (Tex.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.).
One measure of the seriousness of Zinke’s bill is that the news release announcing it includes links to seven news articles about the purported threat of terrorist acts, none of which appears to involve Palestinians. None of the actual attacks occurred in the United States. One of the plots cited was uncovered in 2019. The effect would be like calling for the deportation of everyone named Zinke from the country because some people whose last names start with Z attacked people in France.
There are few U.S. residents from Gaza or the West Bank. From 2013 to 2022, the United States accepted 165,000 refugees and granted asylum to 450,000 other people. Of that total, no more than 1,250 came from the Palestinian territories — a number so small that it’s logged as just “Other” in government data. In 2022, there were fewer than 100 refugees or people granted asylum from the Palestinian territories.
Defenders of Zinke’s legislation will insist that this fails to capture other arrivals in the United States, ones who might have been pushed to arrive this year because of the violence in Gaza or ones who evaded legal systems for entry. The former group certainly exists, given that the most recent data is from 2022. But the idea that people seeking refuge from an active war zone are uniformly dangerous is an odd understanding of the effects of war.
The latter group is the one on which Zinke’s entire proposal hinges: that there may be some unmeasurable element of danger necessitating his Fox-News-friendly legislation. But, of course, it depends on those actors having contact with federal authorities. Zinke wants to prevent the United States from granting visas to Palestinians who seek one, which is not a group that is trying to sneak into the country. (This is where the Biden-bashing comes in: “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 writes.)
Put another way, the legislation is performative. Zinke’s news release quotes Zinke himself as saying that it is “the most anti-Hamas immigration legislation I have seen and it’s well deserved.” It might pass the House if it came to a vote but would not pass the Senate and certainly wouldn’t be signed into law. It is a vehicle not for keeping America safe but for Zinke to grandstand about the inherent danger of people who live in Gaza and are seeking to escape.
Zinke got his Fox News article. In it, he asserts that he doesn’t have “any hard feelings” about Palestinians but that “we need to look at [violence] as almost a pandemic and stop it from spreading.” A fraught comparison to make if you want to retain the support of Greene and Jackson.
By Monday evening, he’d sent out an appeal to supporters.
“STOP TERRORISM,” it exhorted recipients. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Are you willing to answer the call?”
“Answering the call,” of course, meant making a campaign contribution.