Protesters will rally at the Iowa State Capitol to challenge Governor Terry Branstad’s plea to deny Syrian refugees entry into the state on November 24 from 1-4pm.
The protest will be hosted by Samantha Thomas of Des Moines, who is “appalled at Branstad’s resolution to deny services to anyone in need.” Thomas is the founder and Chief Executive Officer at Global Arts Therapy, where she has worked with refugees in Nepal and former slaves in West Africa as well as refugee communities in Iowa.
“I have been active in organizing programming through Global Arts Therapy to improve the quality of life that refugees maintain in Iowa,” Thomas told Iowa Free Press.
Citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Branstad ordered “all state agencies to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans,” according to a November 16 news release from the governor’s office.
“We must continue to have compassion for others but we must also maintain the safety of Iowans and the security of our state,” Branstad said. “Until a thorough and thoughtful review is conducted by the intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured, the federal government should not resettle any Syrian refugees in Iowa.”
Branstad’s stance on immigration and human rights, after Thomas read about his position on Syrian refugees inThe Des Moines Register, made her “blood boil.” This motivated her to organize the rally with Global Art Therapy intern and Drake University student Whitney Leming-Salisbury.
“I wanted to show [Branstad] that he could not persecute all of us and that communities would rally to aid and assist those in need, no matter what,” Thomas said. “He will not prohibit people from creating kindness and improving humanity.”
Thomas said she believes Iowa is an amazing place for refugees. “Because of people like [former Iowa Governor] Robert Ray, our society has been built to create openness and we have opened our hearts to those severely affected by human rights abuses. Iowa is a state that is willing to assist those that are most affected by tragedy, it is for some reason in our blood.”
Thomas, along with numerous organizations, is warning people not to scapegoat Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. “Syrian people are not robots, they are just like us.” However, they are “living in a nation filled with fear and bloodshed.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Melissa Fleming addressed these concerns at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday:
“We are deeply disturbed by language that demonizes refugees as a group,” Fleming said. “This is dangerous as it will contribute to xenophobia and fear… Refugees should not be turned into scapegoats and must not become the secondary victims of these most tragic events.”
“Refugees come here in search of a better life, not a free ride,” Thomas said.
The Migration Policy Institute, based in Washington D.C., has reported that the fears of US politicians about the potential threat of refugees is exaggerated.
“The United States has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001,” MPI reports. “In those 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”
Thomas adds, “We are a state filled with opportunity, amazing education, kind people and resources to make anyone’s dreams come true.”
Rally organizers are encouraging people who attend the rally to make signs and bring friends. The Iowa State Capital Building is located at E. 9th St & E. Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319.