Iowans protest Branstad’s refugee decision

Protesters hold signs against Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to not accept refugees from Syria in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 24, 2015.

Thomas Nelson

DES MOINES, Iowa — A group of 50 protesters gathered outside of Iowa statehouse Tuesday to protest Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to stop accepting refugees from Syria.

The protest was organized by the Global Arts Therapy organization, which is based in Des Moines and lead by Samantha Thomas.

“I can’t handle it anymore,” Thomas said. “We’ve got start doing something. We’ve got to start mobilizing.”

Thomas said Branstad’s decision to stop accepting refugees in the state was the “last straw” and inspired the protest Tuesday.

Dozens of other governors around the country also said they would not accept refugees in their state, citing the danger of terrorists posing as refugees and entering the United States.

“They’re not a danger,” said former state Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge. “They go through a two year vetting process. I’m more frightened of what might happen to them than what they might do.”

Around 50 people gathered in the beginning of the protest outside the capitol building. Sheets with the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine” were handed out.

Together they sang through the song with instrument accompaniment and various protesters spoke about why they were there and why they didn’t agree with Branstad.

“I hope that this rally will create lasting change for all new friends of Iowa in the years to come,” Thomas said. “At the end of 2013, there were 16.7 million refugees worldwide with the highest number in Pakistan, 1.6 million. Its estimated that 50 percent of refugees are under the age of 18.”

Only two percent of the refugees are males within combat age, Thomas said.

Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, a Republican who served before Branstad, welcomed refugees in the past and protesters said they wanted to continue the tradition and welcome them with open arms.

Thomas urged Branstad in her letter to allow the refugees into Iowa. Previous refugees had changed Iowa for the better in the past.

“I think we just need to not be so fearful because these are human beings in need,” said Brenda Schumann, a Des Moines resident and retired teacher. “The other things is I hear is ‘we’ve got homeless, we’ve got veterans,’ and we do, but it’s not one or the other.”

“We’re a rich enough country that we can help both,” she added.

After speeches and song, the protesters mingled with one another. At 3 p.m., they went inside the statehouse, each going through security one-by-one.

Once inside, the protesters went to Branstad’s office. The governor was not in Des Moines, though, instead in Northern Iowa, but protesters presented their letter to an office clerk.

“I think this event was really necessary because it wasn’t just an event about Syrian refugees, it was kind of a collective moment,” said Kaitlyn Munro, a board member of Global Arts Therapy. “The event was an event that allowed people to know the passion of the people can be expressed and presented.”