Editorial: Bring them here


President Barack Obama has signaled the United States will accept at least 10,000 more refugees from Syria during the next year. Michigan should lobby to be the destination for most, if not all of those seeking new homes.

Bringing them here makes sense. The state already has one of the largest Syrian immigrant communities in the nation. There are a number of public and private support agencies in place with expertise in dealing with Arab newcomers.

In addition, Michigan has an abundance of inexpensive, available housing particularly in Detroit and its other urban centers. Detroit, with up to 80,000 abandoned structures, would benefit from refugees willing to repair and homestead those properties.

And a large percentage of the refugees from Syria have the education and skills needed to fill the nearly 100,000 jobs that have gone unfilled because of a lack of trained workers.

Gov. Rick Snyder has set a goal of attracting 50,000 foreign immigrants to Michigan. That objective has been hampered by the slow pace of expanding visas at the federal level.

But the humanitarian crisis in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East is swamping Europe with refugees. More than 9 million Syrians are displaced both inside and outside the country. The United States, which took in only 4,000 Syrians last year, could do more to help, and should.

In May, two academics writing in the New York Times said the humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war and the social crisis in Detroit rooted in its massive population loss could be “conjoined to produce something positive.”

David D. Laitin and Marc Jahr noted the current Metro Detroit population of Syrian immigrants is entrepreneurial (19 percent own their own business) and solidly middle class (average household income of $50,000 to $70,000 a year.)

As their predecessors have proven, they are the type of newcomers who could quickly contribute to the local economy and tax base, filling neighborhoods and schools.

The writers note that to enable an influx of Syrian immigrants to Michigan, federal, state and local officials would have to build a cooperative strategy, and the Obama administration would have to lift this year’s cap of 50,000 refugees. They advise the State Department to open offices in the Syrian refugee camps in Syria and Turkey to accelerate security checks.

Federal resources would also be needed to help resettle the refugees, including money to fix up homes in urban areas.

Of Detroit, Laitin and Jahr say, “Syrians would bring new vigor and catalyze its nascent recovery.”

Acceptance here is likely to be smoother than in other areas of the country, based on past experience. “There is no evidence to suggest that the Detroit area is a powder keg of anti-immigrant sentiment,” the pair write. “Quite the contrary: From its original Native Americans to the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the infusion of Hispanic and Arab immigrants, Detroit has been a melting pot of religions, ethnicities and cultures.”

Immigrants from both inside and outside the United States helped built Detroit to greatness once. They could help do it again.

Other states may not have room for refugees from broken places seeking to start new lives. But Michigan and its struggling cities do. We want them. Bring them here.