Mich. leaders, activists speak out on anti-refugee bill

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Community leaders, elected officials and activists spoke out Wednesday in Dearborn against legislation that aims to erect hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the United States.

The National Network for Arab American Communities, a program of the nonprofit ACCESS, and its Take On Hate campaign is asking the public to contact lawmakers to oppose HR 4038.

A measure pending in the U.S. Senate would effectively suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and require the FBI to conduct background checks on people coming to the U.S. from those countries.

It would also oblige the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

The legislation passed the House of Representatives last month.

Republicans have said tighter restrictions are needed following the Paris terrorist attacks in November. President Barack Obama and most Democrats said the system is already safe and the U.S. shouldn’t abandon its tradition of accepting refugees.

The Obama administration, which has announced plans to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in addition to the 2,500 who have settled here since 2011, says it already takes around 18-24 months on average for them to make it into this country. They must pass a battery of screening requirements including interviews overseas, fingerprinting and biometric investigations. Many are women and children and only about 2 percent are single men of combat age.

Leaders who spoke during the news conference Wednesday at ACCESS headquarters said the proposed legislation denies humanitarian efforts to refugees and creates division.

“My grandmother escaped religious persecution in Russia to start a new life in America,” said Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. “That is the great American story that our country is built on. Once anyone is properly vetted, they should have the same opportunities many of our ancestors have had.”

Meisner last month was critical of a letter by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who warned Pontiac’s mayor following the Paris attacks that a project to house Syrian refugees in the city could allow terrorists to slip in.

He was joined by others, including Fayrouz Saad, director of immigrant affairs for the city of Detroit; Kary Moss, executive director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan; and Donnell R. White, executive director of the Detroit Branch NAACP.

Also at the news conference was state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who has partnered with Welcoming Michigan and Take on Hate to launch a “Respect Michigan” pledge calling on Michigan elected officials “to live up to a standard of respect for Michigan’s diverse communities” and support refugees, ACCESS said.

“We commend the courage and leadership of our local leaders who have stood strong against hate rhetoric and have advocated for unity at this time of crisis,” Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, said in a statement. “They have responsibly spoken up for humanitarian efforts in light of growing opposition. We thank them for their support.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.