Michigan likely to take in more Syria refugees
Michigan, already home to one of the largest communities of Syrian immigrants in the nation, can expect even more in the coming months as lawmakers warm up to the idea of welcoming more people from the war-torn country.
President Barack Obama on Thursday directed his administration to prepare to accept at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees during the next year. The country is on track to accept about 1,500 Syrians this year, according to White House, but that’s merely a fraction of the 11.6 million people who have been displaced from their homes during the brutal 4 1/2-year civil war in Syria.
U.S. allies in Europe are struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, many of whom are fleeing regions seized by Islamic State militants.
The prospect of accepting the migrants has support in Michigan, where about 4,000 refugees were resettled last year, with more than half of those from Iraq, according to data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health & Human Services.
“Gov. Snyder believes Michigan should be a welcoming state,” said Dave Murray, spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder. “We are open to working with the federal government to see if there is a role that Michigan can play with this issue.”
It’s unclear how many Syrian refugees could end up living in Michigan. Resettlement inside the U.S. is influenced by several factors, including whether the refugee has relatives living in the U.S. already, and the capacity of the resettlement agencies in local communities to handle individual or special casesand languages spoken.
“Each state also has the ability to comment on the capacity of the agencies and the communities in which they propose to place refugees,” said Danna Van Brandt, an adviser for the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration within the State Department.
“To the extent possible, refugees are placed near any family or friends they identify.”
The Detroit-Dearborn-Warren area is home to the fourth-largest population of Syrian immigrants in the U.S. (approximately 3,000) behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, according to federal data.
Activists in Metro Detroit’s Arab community are pushing for the federal government to offer more aid to refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
“We’ve seen refugees coming here from the Middle East for the last 36 years,” said Haifa Fakhouri, president, CEO and founder of the Arab American and Chaldean Council. “But the Syrian situation tops all of them. It’s a very sad and very ugly situation.”
Based in Troy and founded in 1979, the nonprofit provides human services, such as health care, job training, translating and youth services to Southeast Michigan’s Middle Eastern and mainstream communities.
Fakhouri has written a letter to Obama, calling for an increase in the federal budget for refugee resettlement.
“We are a great country and we always help many people in many nations all over the world,” she said. “Our Statue of Liberty is a testament to that. I think we should allow more refugees to come to this country.”
Several members of Michigan’s delegation in Congress advocate doing more to help the refugees, including boosting the number of those resettling in the U.S.
“The U.S. has to rise up to the occasion with Europe,” said U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak. “It’s an international problem.”
He said the United States should accept more Syrian refugees and add more money for support. He added the efforts must be coordinated with Europe. “It isn’t organized,” Levin said. “It’s helter-skelter.”
The refugees from Syria would be people who are already in the pipeline and waiting to be let into the United States, not the thousands working their way through eastern Europe and landing in Greece. It was not immediately clear how admitting a larger number of Syrian refugees who are in the processing pipeline would help alleviate the crisis that European countries are grappling with.
About 15,000 Syrians are waiting for the clearance process to conclude, according to the State Department.
Some lawmakers have cautioned against U.S. efforts to accelerate the resettlement process. Among them is U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who this week expressed concern the U.S. government lacks “credible intelligence on many of the individuals who present themselves for admission as refugees.”
In a letter earlier this year to National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Miller and other leaders of the House Committee on Homeland Security wrote that “We are concerned about the possibility of groups like ISIS exploiting the refugee resettlement process to mask the deployment of operatives into the West.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, also wants to ensure that the U.S. continues its rigorous screening process for refugees to guard American security.
“My concern is that we must get an established immigration plan that works because right now, it’s hit and miss. We’re putting some countries above others,” said Lawrence, whose district includes thousands of resettled refugees from the Mideast.
U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, criticized the Obama administration’s failure to develop a meaningful strategy for defeating ISIS, as the terrorist group’s hold expands in the region.
“The scenes of Syrian refuges struggling and dying to find shelter for their families are heart-breaking,” Trott said in a statement. “I plan to continue closely monitoring this tragic situation and work with my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee to learn more about what can be done to help those impacted by this crisis.”
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, visited the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan last week as part of a five-nation Middle East visit and said the United States needs to “continue to be contributing to the refugee issue.”
The camp is a temporary home to 85,000 Syrian refugees where there’s “not a whole lot of hope as to when they are going to get back to Syria and get back to a normal life,” Peters said in an interview.
The senator said he is exploring a proposal to boost funding for Syrian refugees.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said she has many constituents with relatives trapped in Syria. She said it’s clear the United States needs to do more.
The Arab American and Chaldean council is helping refugees through programs run by the United Nations, Catholic Relief Services and through efforts by churches and mosques, Fakhouri said.
Staff reporter Charles Ramirez and Associated Press contributed.