Editorial: Pause on refugees can’t be permanent

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder took the only course he could in suspending his initiative to settle refugees from Syria and elsewhere in Michigan. In light of the recent terrorists attacks in Paris, the governor was prudent to ask the federal government for a review of the screening procedures.

But as Snyder said in an article written for TIME magazine, this should be viewed as a temporary pause, not a slamming of the door on the refugees who could help repopulate Michigan’s cities and bring much needed skills to its workforce.

“I remain a vocal advocate for continuing to make Michigan a home for immigrants, including refugees who are escaping violence and oppression in all corners of the world,” Snyder writes. “I am unwavering in that determination.”

That sets Snyder apart from some other governors who have also asked that their states be excused from the resettlement program that could bring as many as 65,000 refugees to the United States over the next year.

Many of those governors have joined the fear-mongering that Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists will be slipped into the ranks of those arriving from Muslim countries. Opponents of the initiative are also pushing the myth that Syrian refugees, in particular, can not be adequately screened.

Syrians, because of the repressive regime under which they’ve lived, are among the most documented people in the world. They are required to have exit visas whenever they leave the country. Technology allows careful tracking of their social network activity. They are not anonymous.

The screening process by the State Department and Homeland Security is extensive and takes 18 months or longer. The United States is different from Europe in that refugees aren’t being smuggled in or walking across the border in hordes. They can’t get here without applying for admittance and undergoing layers of scrutiny.

And it must be noted that America has welcomed tens of thousands of refugees over the past 20 years, many of them from Muslim nations, and not one is responsible for a terrorist attack. (The Tsarnaev brothers of the Boston Marathon bombing came here as children and were radicalized as adults.)

Yet it is understandable that Americans are wary of refugees from Syria and other places where the Islamic State has a strong presence.

President Barack Obama had a chance to reassure them this week, to explain the steps taking to screen out potential terrorists. Instead, he petulantly dismissed their concerns and spoke as if his audience were only the Republican presidential contenders.

Snyder took a better approach, seeking to settle fears while remaining steadfast in his commitment to accept the refugees.

“We must never confuse the people who look to us for safety and opportunity with those who wish to do us harm,” the governor writes in TIME. “I am simply asking for assurance that the federal process will know the difference.”

He should get that assurance, and entrance procedures should be thoroughly reviewed to make certain there are no holes through which terrorists can slip.

But no one should believe that turning back the refugees will make the United States safer. Though at least one of the Paris attackers appears to have been a Syrian immigrant, many of the others apparently were home-grown, falling to the Islamic State’s increasingly sophisticated Internet recruiting efforts.

In addition, the southern border of the United States remains porous. It would be easier for a terrorist to walk in from Mexico than to risk the refugee screening program.

There are things the feds should do. It could move to the front of the line family groups and older refugees, and take more time vetting young, single men.

Tightening screening and explaining the process in better detail to the American people will not only calm fears, it might spare the refugees from the additional resentment that would come if states are forced to accept them.

Michigan, as Snyder writes, needs the refugees. And the refugees need Michigan. Getting right the procedures for screening and admitting them should be a top priority.