Governors say they won’t accept Syrian refugees – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON â At least fourÂ governors say they will not accept Syrian refugeesÂ in their states in response to Friday’s attacks in Paris.
The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Texas say their top concern must be the safety of state residents, and there is a chance the refugees will include people with terrorist ties.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Sunday acknowledged there are no plans to settle refugees in his state, or credible terror threats directed at Alabama. But he issued a statement saying he would “not place Alabamians at even the slightest possible risk of an attack on our people.”
âPlease continue to join me in praying for those who have suffered loss and those who will never allow freedom to fade at the hands of the terrorists,â Bentley said.
Also Sunday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’sÂ office released a statement saying the state would not be accepting anyÂ 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.”
Despite those reactions,Â President Obama is continuing with plans to accept refugees from Syria.
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. That’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said in Turkey on Monday. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
Obama made his comments after a Group of 20 nations summitÂ that focused on counter-terrorism in the wake of Friday’sÂ attacks.
The civil war in Syria, which has raged since 2011, has killed 250,000 people and, according to the United Nations, sent more than 4 million refugees into other countries to flee the violence in what has been called the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
The vast majority of the refugees have gone to Europe or neighboring countries. The United States accepted 1,854 Syrian refugees through September; more than 10 times as many have been admitted from Myanmar. The Obama administration has indicated that it plans to increase that number to 100,000 by 2017, which human rights advocates call inadequate to address the depths of the crisis. The U.S. accepted at least 130,000 South Vietnamese refugees in the months after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
At least 132 people were killed and hundredsÂ injured in a series of attacks that took place around Paris on Friday evening. Several of the attackers have been identified as French citizens. According to French prosecutors, a bomber who targeted the national stadium was found with a Syrian passport.
The passport’s discoveryÂ raisedÂ concerns that Islamic State militantsÂ may beÂ crossing into Turkey before moving toÂ Western Europe alongside the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have entered Europe this year, many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria.
Snyder’s announcementÂ Sunday is a step backwardÂ fromÂ recent efforts and comments fromÂ his administration offering to aidÂ refugees.Â InÂ September, Snyder saidÂ he was working with the federal government to determine the process for accepting refugees from the ongoing crisis in Syria and the Middle East.
His reversalÂ 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.
Detroit-areaÂ Arab-American leaders and refugee advocates said Sunday theyÂ understand the governor’s concern about security, but arguedÂ 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, Mich.,Â who has family members whoÂ are refugees. He was at the White House recently to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis with U.S. officials:Â “We should welcome them.”
Sean de Four, vice president of child and family services with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, said the U.S. has a moral obligation to help.
The agency has helped resettle about 1,800 to 2,000 refugees in Michigan over the last year;Â about 200 of them are from Syria and many others are from Iraq, another war-torn country.
“I certainly understand and appreciate Gov. Snyder’s desire to be cautious and put the safety of Michiganders first,” saidÂ de Four. ButÂ “the State Department already uses an overabundance of caution in its screening of refugees before they gained entry into the United States. In fact, refugees spend an average of fiveÂ to sevenÂ years in refugee camps being screened and background checks before access to any country.”
More Syrian refugees were expected in Michigan inÂ coming months, but Snyder’s decision could bring an end to that.
According to the U.S. Census, 3.5% of Alabamaâs population in 2014 was born in a foreign country. The national average was 12.9%.
Bentley in 2011 signed a sweeping bill that attempted to criminalize undocumented immigrants living in the state. Most elements of the law have been struck down by the federal courts.
Several other Republican governors Sunday questioned plans to increase the number of refugees resettling in Alabama, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Bentley’s statement said neighboring states had accepted Syrian refugees; Louisiana has accepted 14; Syrian refugees also haveÂ settled in Atlanta, Memphis andÂ Nashville.
Snyder has been Â known for his pro-immigrant views, in contrast to strongÂ anti-immigrant sentiment heard on the national level in the Republican Party during the presidential race.
Two weeks ago, Snyder visited Hamtramck, which has the highest percentage of immigrants among all cities in the state, telling a crowd of BangladeshiÂ Americans: Â “I believe I’m the most pro-immigration governorÂ in theÂ country.”
The Office of Refugee Settlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said 107 refugees were settled in Alabama in fiscal year 2014. Thirty-sixÂ came from Iraq; 22 came from Somalia. In all, 381 refugees were settled in Alabama between 2011 and 2014. One Syrian refugee was settled in Alabama in fiscal year 2012. The state’s total population is 4.8 million.
Bentley’s statement said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency “is working diligently with the FBI, DHS and federal intelligence partners to monitor any possible threats.”
Contributing:Â Paul Egan and Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press;Kim Hjelmgaard and Jane Onyanga-Omara, USA TODAY.Â