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Duggan defends Obama screenings of Syrian refugees

Melissa Nann Burke, and Christine Ferretti

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan reiterated Monday that “We stand prepared in Detroit to do our share” when it comes to hosting refugees from Syria and elsewhere, saying he has committed to welcoming 50 refugee families a year to the city for the next three years.

“We have the vacant housing here that could accommodate these refugees. We have local support agencies, and, of course, we have a significant number of Syrian and other Middle Eastern communities based here, and so we have been moving down that road,” Duggan said on a call with reporters.

The longtime Democrat spent two days in Washington, D.C., last month speaking with federal Homeland Security, State and Customs and Immigration officials regarding his offer to host Syrian and other refugees.

He shared with complaints from local refugee resettlement agencies that the Obama administration was taking too long in processing prospective refugees.

The officials “were very clear that they were not going to be rushed in the processing of the prospective refugees,” Duggan said.

“A month ago, everybody was criticizing the administration that it was being too slow and deliberate on the background checks on these refugees. Now it seems the reaction has gone to the other extreme.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has suspended efforts to open Michigan to Syrians fleeing their country's civil war, wanting the federal government to review and strengthen its security screenings of refugee applicants. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, has urged the Obama administration to examine weaknesses in the screening of refugees.

“Gov. Snyder continues to be engaged in discussions with the departments of State and Homeland Security,” spokesman Dave Murray said Monday. “Our priority is to keep Michiganders safe, and Gov. Snyder continues to work to get answers to the questions and concerns expressed by Michigan residents.”

Duggan said he’s confident the Obama administration is vetting the individuals carefully and that people fleeing terror in other parts of the world would be welcome in Detroit.

“When we saw the tragic incidents in Paris and Lebanon, it drove home to me that the (Obama) administration had foresight in the way that they approached this, and I remain just as comfortable today as I was in October,” Duggan said.

He said every mayor in the country is aware of the threat of terrorism.

“The question is do we respond to it with fear and panic, or do we respond to it with thoughtfulness and resolve?” Duggan said.

“From my perspective, an approach that says we’ll fight the terrorists but we’ll provide refuge to their victims, is what this country is all about.”

The Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by the Islamic State prompted more than two dozen governors, as well as lawmakers in the U.S. House, to seek to block efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S., worrying that militants planning a domestic attack would arrive among them.

Michigan, like other states, could not legally deny refugees entrance to admitted refugees, although it could make the situation more difficult by refusing to assist with housing and some social services — something the Snyder administration has not threatened.

The Obama administration has assured Snyder and other concerned governors that refugee applicants undergo a rigorous, comprehensive screening process and in-person interviews, with enhanced scrutiny if they come from Syria.

Security screenings involve several intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense.

Checks include fingerprint and biographical background studies, medical exams and interviews by specially trained Homeland Security officers. The process typically takes 18 to 24 months from initial application through the resolution of a case.

The United States has admitted nearly 785,000 refugees in the 14 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Of those, 12 — a fraction of 1 percent of admitted refugees — have been arrested or removed from the country due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the United States, according to an administration official.

None of the 2,174 Syrian refugees admitted since 2001 have been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds, according to the White House.

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