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Snyder trying to clear his record in statements on refugees

Nov 18, 2015

A Syrian refugee in Bulgaria.
Credit UNHCR / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Governor Rick Snyder was the first governor in the nation to speak out on refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. And he may have come to regret it as he tries to clarify his position vis a vis what a lot of the nation’s other Republican governors are saying about refugees and immigration.

Following the attacks, Governor Snyder said he was hitting the “pause” button on efforts to get more visas for Middle Eastern refugees to settle in Michigan.

“It is important that there are people in need across the world and that we’re open to those folks," Snyder said. "We just wanted to make sure we were following best practices and make sure that we’re keeping our country safe.”

The governor said he wants to see a Department of Homeland Security review of its procedures before there’s any further action on refugee visas for people fleeing violence in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

His statements became part of a national narrative as other Republican governors called for closing borders and refusing to accept Syrian refugees.

In that context, refugee resettlement groups in Michigan were both concerned and confused. After all, this was the self-proclaimed most pro-immigration governor in America talking. And some people are making big plans around the state’s apparent willingness to take on more refugees.

Dr. Malaz Alatassi is part of a group of people looking to build a Syrian refugee relocation center in an abandoned school in Pontiac.

“What we envision is more of a community center than a religious place," he says, "so we’re going to have in the back there a gym. We’re going to have an area where people can socialize.”

Alatassi says a medical clinic may also be part of the complex. His group provides help to new refugees with housing, English language lessons, shopping, and finding employment. Those are the kinds of services Governor Snyder says are critical to making Michigan a successful new home for refugees.

Governor Snyder said in September that he would ask the federal government for additional visas for refugees. Typically, about 4,000 refugees a year re-settle in Michigan. Many of them are from Middle Eastern countries because Michigan already has a large Middle Eastern population ready to welcome them and help out.

And the truth, is a governor can’t really stop immigration.

His group provides help to new refugees with housing, English language lessons, shopping, and finding employment. Those are the kinds of services Governor Snyder says are critical to making Michigan a successful new home for refugees.

“The federal government gets to decide who can be a citizen. The federal government gets to decide who can cross the border,” says University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus. “The federal government is vested with ability to control foreign affairs – diplomacy, war and peace, and immigration.”

But governors can request visas to re-settle refugees in their states. Governor Snyder says he did that, and now says he’s put that request on hold.

But here’s the thing: When asked to provide documentation of the administration’s request, the response was, there is none.

So, the pause the governor called for? There’s nothing to pause.