GUEST POST: Knudsen, Gianforte, wrong on refugees 

Syrian Refugees in Canada


 by Joseph Thiel      

Joseph Thiel served on the Board of Regents of the Montana University System from 2011-2013. He is now pursuing his doctorate in education at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.                                  

Politics is the art of the possible.

Except, it seems, in the mind of Montana House Speaker Austin Knudsen. In his June 20th guest column in the Missoulian, Speaker Knudsen lauded Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte’s stance on refugee resettlement. Knudsen and Gianforte argue that Governor Steve Bullock should firmly oppose Syrian refugees (or indeed refugees fleeing any Muslim country) being resettled in Montana.

There is a problem, however. Governor Bullock has no power to halt refugee resettlement in Montana or anywhere else. Those powers are granted solely to the Federal government.

This isn’t a hypothetical. A recent attempt by Texas Governor Greg Abbot to halt refugee resettlement was tossed out of court. Any action Governor Bullock might take on refugees would not only be futile, it would be wasteful. Governors do not determine who enters our country. Testing this point further would only serve to funnel tax dollars into lawyers’ pockets.

This is not the only point on which Speaker Knudsen is incorrect.  He insinuates that refugees emigrate illegally. He claims they are “moved to the front of the line,” “given privileged status,” and that they may seek citizenship without taking “courses in U.S. history, civics or English, as is required of [other] foreigners.”

Wrong. On each point. In fact, while fleeing war, terror, violence, and hunger, refugees are subject to much stricter criteria and scrutiny than typical American immigrants – scrutiny miles beyond what those who enter on tourist visas endure. Those few who are granted admission to the United States undergo a cultural orientation course prior to departure and are met by one of nine non-profit groups, which help them to integrate and assimilate.  When, after five years of permanent residence, refugees are eligible to apply for citizenship, they must meet the same educational and language requirements as other immigrants.

Speaker Knudsen raises some reasonable concerns. He fears refugees who refuse to assimilate or who bring cultural practices at odds with American society. His prescriptions, however, would be disastrous. Barring victims of war based on religion or point of origin is at odds with our most basic values. It would diminish our reputation as a charitable nation and would contradict international norms regarding religious freedom and non-discrimination that the United States has worked to advance. Most fundamentally, it would deny thousands of the most vulnerable people on the planet, including women and children, the ability to escape violent conflict.

There is an alternative. Recent research, which followed refugees relocated to Colorado over four years, indicates that refugees who develop connections and friendships outside of their families and ethnic communities are more likely to assimilate and assimilate more quickly.

So, if you share Speaker Knudsen’s concerns, act in a way that does not simultaneously close the door on people fleeing war. Be neighborly. Volunteer. Donate. Help the many good organizations that work with refugees to ensure they become a part of America’s weave rather than a stray strand. The organizations that will be working to assist refugees in Montana include Soft Landing Missoula ( and the International Rescue Committee ( They could use your help.

As individuals, as Montanans, we can join in a grand American tradition, which has helped 3 million refugees escape violence since 1975.  We can actively assist refugees to overcome the trauma of war, adapt to life in a new and alien environment, and, ultimately, flourish as new members of the American project.





15 Comments on "GUEST POST: Knudsen, Gianforte, wrong on refugees "

  1. Mr. Thiel is absolutely right about refugees. Montana has plenty of space for them. An influx of Syrian refugees would immediately raise the state’s IQ.

  2. Knudson, Gianforte and the rest of the MTGOP politicians know they don’t have to be right, realistic or factual. They know, as Republicans, all they have to do is scare their voters in order to win. Fear and anger are the tools of the trade of today’s MTGOP.

    • Sorry, but it is not just a Montana view. Every old white repuglican is still so pissed off about twice electing a person of color as President and allowing him to live in their white house that they will stop at nothing to cram their political views down anyone’s throat.

      • Maybe you missed the first line: “Joseph Thiel served on the Board of Regents of the Montana University System from 2011-2013.”

        So, it’s “a Montana view,” even if it isn’t an “old white repuglican” Montana view.

  3. It is sad that immigrants must demonstrate a knowledge of US history and government for citizenship, while natural born citizens have no similar requirements can both vote and become President.

    Adams and Jefferson understood that our “experiment” in government required an educated electorate. A pocket-sized copy of the US Constitution is not proof of education or knowledge.

    • it’s not a mystery why the GOP would like to destroy public education-getting citizens to vote against their own interest is lots easier if they are stupid. I wonder if this is why they are defunding efforts to fight the Zika virus? After all, the GOP platform forces women to carry brainless babies to full term…and the virus mostly thrives in States where growing numbers of non-white voters threaten their domination. They need those “poorly educated” to elect a Drumpf Dynasty…

  4. We can file injunctions and lawsuits and stall till the administration changes or roll over and wait for an Orlando in Montana,,,,,,

  5. Has it occurred to anyone that if it were not for the cluster#$%^ in the middle east created by Greed and the Reign of Cheney (and the demagogues before them) there would not be a need for Syrians to be forced from their homes! From where I am sitting I should be peeking over the Tetons and seeing at least 5,000 homeless Syrian mothers and children camped out in the backyard of Cheneys Teton Pines Mini Mansion. Hell, at least another 10,000 could be accommodated at Bushes’ Texas “ranch”. The hypocrisy of the rightwing nuts in Montana is overwhelming considering that some of the first settlers in Montana were refugees themselves-deserters and conscientious objectors of the Civil War, the Mormoms seeking religious asylum are only a few examples. Every white man woman and child in this state if a refugee and the Syrians certainly didn’t wish federal defense contractors would make trillions of dollars on the death and mutilation of their fellow desert dwellers in the hopes of a one way trip to the Land of the Free and The Brave. Saving the world for Democracy is an expensive endeavor -time to pay up America!

  6. Montana settlers were not Muslim extremists…Munich shooting: Police operation underway, report says several killed at mall….who you going to vote for….it is as simple as that…no more rhetoric….your call….

    • ….no early Montana settlers were not Muslim extremists….some of them were white terrorists raping and pillaging the indigenous people….you obviously did not get the point as I see your are missing a few points illustrated in other posts….

  7. Robin, if I am wrong….and if you are wrong…????

    • I don’t understand your posts all they demonstrate is that is that the period button on your keyboard must be stuck…….which is typical right wing nut reaction – to make no sense at all.

  8. A Syrian man who had been denied asylum in Germany blew himself up Sunday and injured 12 people after being turned away from an open-air music festival in the city of Ansbach, officials said.

    “We don’t know if this man planned on suicide or if he had the intention of killing others,” Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann said.

    Herrmann added that the man’s request for asylum was rejected a year ago, but he was allowed to remain in Germany because of the strife in Syria.

  9. A 21-year-old Syrian refugee is accused of using a machete to kill a woman and injure two other people in Germany on Sunday, Reuters reported, citing police.

    The man was arrested after the attack, which occurred in the southwestern city of Reutlingen, according to German media.

  10. Bill, don’t bother sharing facts with progressives. Facts are a progressive’s worst nightmare because they get in the way of the progressives’ delusional fantasies.

    I find the silence in response to your listing of atrocities committed by Syrians in Europe to be deafening. I guess it’s just easier to label us hateful bigots.

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