Last week in Ravalli County, about 500 concerned residents attended a meeting hosted by the county commission on the issue of Syrian refugees. The commissioners had recently published a draft of the letter they proposed to send to the State Department, opposing the resettlement of refugees in Ravalli County on the grounds that they might belong to terrorist organizations.
Phil Liggins of Hamilton set the tone for the meeting when he noted "the U.S. may not be at war with Islam, but Islam is at war with the U.S." Hollis Poe, also of Hamilton, warned that "ISIS will come after our women." State Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, suggested that Gov. Bullock's decision to allow Syrian refugees in Montana was a play for federal funding. "Make no mistake about it," she said. "Refugee resettlement is big business."
According to Commission Chair Ray Hawk, constituents who had written to him about the issue were against allowing refugees in Ravalli County at a ratio of about 50 to 1. Attendees at the meeting were also overwhelmingly in favor of the letter to the State Department, despite some minor flaws in its reasoning.
For one thing, the federal government is not responsible for determining where refugees settle. Once they are admitted to the U.S., Syrians can go where they want, just like other immigrants. They typically take the advice and aid of nonprofit resettlement organizations—the ones Ballance says make millions in the lucrative business of finding homes and jobs for people who have moved to this country with nothing.
The fact that the State Department plays no role in determining where Syrian refugees wind up shifts the commission's letter from prudent request to some different category. So does the fact that, as of this writing, the total number of Syrian refugees trying to move to Ravalli County stands at zero. As Chris Love of Corvallis observed, refugees generally want to settle in places where they can get jobs. "I think the chance of folks being sent here is minimal," Love said.
I agree. That's why the Ravalli County Commission is wise to act quickly, while support for their letter is strong. If we wait until the county is overrun with refugees from the Middle East—when women walk the streets of Victor in hijabs instead of camouflage hats and children read the Quran in elementary school instead of the Bible—it will be too late. We need to speak out against Syrians now, while there aren't any around.
But why stop at refugees? If we're going to take decisive action to protect Ravalli County from folks who have no desire to go there, the commission should ban all kinds of people.
Let's start with hip young graphic designers. With their strange musics and their mustaches insincerely grown, they do not reflect Ravalli County's values. Are we going to wait until the coffee shops of Hamilton are overrun with skinny jeans to do something about it? I say no, or possibly nay, but definitely not "ugh."
While it's barring Syrian refugees, the commission should also write a letter to the State Department banning multiple symphony orchestras from operating in Ravalli County at once. The same goes for gay bathhouses, Yeshiva schools and Indian food. Obviously, an exception will be made for fry bread. Under no circumstances, however, will anyone be allowed to move to Darby and open a falafel stand. That's exactly the kind of thing we're trying to prevent.
It goes without saying that the commission should ban the construction of new supercolliders. Ravalli County has problems enough without it filling up with quarks and leptons. If the State Department refuses to take action on the threat of particle physicists moving to Corvallis and using powerful magnets to slam neutrons together in enormous concrete tubes, then the county commissioners will have to do something about it themselves.
While we're at it, the commission should ban the construction of schools where dogs are taught foolproof pickup techniques to use on human women. I know of no plans to build a canine seduction academy in Ravalli County or anywhere else in the world, but that doesn't mean we should go along with them.
These measures will not be popular, especially if Ravalli County experiences a sudden, unexpected influx of people who aren't xenophobic hicks. But that's the kind of hard choice county commissioners have to make. Sometimes democracy means standing up against what people who can't vote for you don't want to do in order to protect the people who did vote for you from what they shouldn't fear. It's a confusing system, but it's the only one we've got. I'll be damned if I'm going to let some selfish refugee come here and change it.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the global falafel diaspora at combatblog.net.