Patterson says he’ll sue to stop refugee resettlement

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson on Tuesday said he intends to sue to stop the resettlement of more Syrian refugees in his county.

“I’ve brought in my legal team from the county, and we’re about to sue to get an injunction to stop them from relocating more people into this community until the rules are adhered to,” Patterson said Tuesday morning on WJR-AM (760).

Bill Mullan, a spokesman for Patterson, said later Tuesday the county executive is not ready to provide further details on his legal strategy plans.

“We’re not going to speculate when, where or against whom we will file a lawsuit because we are still performing our due diligence on this matter,” he said in an email.

WJR’s Frank Beckmann interviewed Patterson and prompted the county executive to address his concerns over whether immigrants and refugees are being vetted and given health screenings.

“Oakland County leads Michigan in refugees resettlement and Michigan leads the nation,” the county executive said. “So we are right in the middle of this fight.”

Patterson said he gave state officials notice he would file a lawsuit during a recent meeting with them.

“One of the requirements is you have to give the state notice,” he told Beckmann. “We’ve given the state notice that we’re moving in that direction.”

However, Mullan later clarified Patterson’s statement, acknowledging it wasn’t the state but federal government given notice.

“It wasn’t the state, it was the Office of Refugee Resettlement,” Mullan said. “We informed them that if they do not cooperate with Oakland County on refugee resettlement, litigation is an option.”

As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Refugee Resettlement works to help immigrants become integrated members of American society by connecting them with local resources. The federal did not respond to calls Tuesday.

Lynne Golodner, a spokeswoman for Samaritas, Michigan’s largest resettler of refugees, said the charity has not resettled many Syrian refugees in Oakland County because of its high housing costs.

“As a human services provider, we’re carrying out a federal mandate and our main goal is to welcome refugees who have no where else to go and have been approved by the federal government,” she said.

More than 13,785 Syrian refugees have come into the U.S. between May 2011 and Tuesday, according to the U.S. State Department.

More than 1,400 refugees have resettled in Michigan, the federal agency reports. At one time, Michigan once ranked first among states for taking in Syrian refugees. California recently surpassed the Great Lakes State for the top spot with more than 1,500.

Most of the refugees in Michigan resettled mostly in Metro Detroit, primarily in Troy, Dearborn and Clinton Township.

Troy is the No. 1 destination for Syrian refugees in Michigan where 486 have taken up residence between May 2011 and Tuesday, according to the state department. Dearborn is second with 313 and Clinton Township has 278.

Experts said many Syrian refugees settle in Michigan and Metro Detroit because of the sizable Arabic and Syrian communities here.

Patrick McLean, a board member for the Syrian American Rescue Network, a nonprofit that helps refugees adjust to life in Michigan, said he wasn’t surprised by Patterson’s comments.

“I think it’s disappointing,” he said.

Patterson, meanwhile, has been a vocal critic of resettling Syrian refugees in Oakland County.

After developers in Pontiac attempted to create a community center and affordable housing for refugees in 2015, Patterson sent the city’s mayor a letter warning the project could allow Islamic State infiltrators to slip into the community.

“I am dismayed by Pontiac’s agreement to develop a ‘Syrian Refugee Village’ within its borders,” Patterson’s letter to Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman said. “Pontiac is the county seat for Oakland County and thus a focal point. Any program such as the acceptance of refugees from Syria under current conditions constitutes an immediate threat of imminent danger.”

His letter came days after about two dozen governors, including Gov. Rick Snyder, called for halting efforts to open states up to Syrians fleeing their country's civil war because of a November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris and bombings in Lebanon. Snyder also asked the federal government to strengthen its security reviews of refugees.

Michigan and other states can not legally deny refugees entrance into a state because the federal government has jurisdiction over refugee placement.

Patterson, who is serving his sixth four-year term as Oakland County’s chief executive officer, is running for re-election in November against Democratic challenger Vicki Barnett.