November 2015 – LANSING, MICH. — Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to suspend efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan in light of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday has sparked controversy and launched the state into the national debate of how to protect U.S. citizens while providing a haven for those who desperately need help.
Snyder’s office released a statement Sunday saying the state would not be accepting any Syrian refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fully reviewed its procedures. “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in the statement. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”
More than 120 people were killed in Paris on Friday night, and hundreds more injured, in a series of suicide bombings and attacks that officials say were orchestrated by the Islamic State, a terrorist group with a stronghold in Syria. News agencies have reported that a Syrian passport found at the scene of one of the attacks matches a refugee who traveled through Greece. Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria has devastated the country, sending millions of people abroad in search of a new life.
Snyder’s announcement Sunday is a step backward from recent efforts and comments from his administration offering to aid refugees. In September, Snyder said he was working with the federal government to determine the process for accepting refugees from the ongoing crisis in Syria and the Middle East. “Isn’t that part of being a good Michigander?” he asked at the time, while stressing that the refugees would have to be carefully screened to assure they were not security threats. His reversal drew immediate and divisive reactions across the nation on Sunday, but especially in metro Detroit, home to one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the nation.
“Good decision,” state Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, posted on his Facebook page. “We expect more from you,” and “this sends the wrong message,” Rashida Tlaib, a former state representative from southwest Detroit, countered on her Twitter account. Local Arab-American leaders and refugee advocates said Sunday they understand the governor’s concern about security, but argued the Department of Homeland Security already does extensive security checks before allowing any refugees into the U.S.
“The United States should be a safe haven,” said Dr. Yahya Basha, a Syrian-American advocate from West Bloomfield who has family members who are refugees. He was at the White House recently to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis with U.S. officials: “We should welcome them.” –Freep