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Activists demand Snyder accept Syrian refugees

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A small group of activists brought 4,700 petitions to Gov. Rick Snyder demanding Thursday that he welcome Syrian refugees to Michigan.

During the weekend, the Republican governor said he wanted to hold off bringing refugees from the war-torn region to Michigan while making sure the federal screening process is tight enough to weed out terrorist seeking entry to the country.

“These are people fleeing war, fleeing violence, fleeing terrorism,” said organizer Julie Quiroz of Ann Arbor. “We need to be on the right side of history.”

Quiroz said she linked with the national liberal organization Moveon.org when Snyder announced he was delaying efforts to resettle Syrian refugees following last week’s terrorist slayings in Paris and Lebanon. She said she gathered the signatures within 48 hours and expected to top 5,000 signers by day’s end.

President Barack Obama and federal officials point out that accepting immigrants is a national issue and not up to individual states. Other governors have questioned the thoroughness of federal vetting procedures and vowed to block Syrian refugees from their states.

Quinoz, a mother who works in a community-building program, said she felt Snyder’s decision was at odds with the nation’s founding principles. She said she’s the daughter of an Equadoran immigrant.

“Now we have fear and racism driving our policies,” she said. “We need to come at it more thoughtfully and act in ways that don’t make the problem worse.”

Snyder, the first of about two dozen governors to raise concerns about the vetting of migrants, made clear in a Time commentary this week that he wants to keep Michigan open for refugees.

“Our state must be open to the people looking to rebuild shattered lives just as it should be open to those who come here to learn in our universities or those who come to build or invest in our state’s industries,” he wrote in Time. “We must never confuse the people who look to us for safety and opportunity with those who wish to do us harm. I am simply asking for assurance that the federal process will know the difference.”

Lansing resident Anselmo Rodriguez, who joined her in delivering petitions to Snyder’s office, said the issue is important to him because his family “came with the sugar beets” from Texas to Lansing in 1942. He father was an immigrant worker.

“It’s very important to acknowledge what America stands for,” Rodriquez said. “We are the land of the free. We care for these people.”

Snyder spokesman Dave Murray, who accepted the petitions in the downstairs lobby of the Romney Building, where Snyder’s office is located, said he had “a nice talk” with the activists.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com