UPDATED 7:50 p.m. EST: Added additional states that said they will not allow in refugees.
When reports emerged that one of the Paris attackers may have made his way to France disguised as a refugee, the governor of one of the few U.S. states that has already opened its door to dozens of Syrians, slammed it shut, citing security concerns.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement Sunday that he decided to put efforts to accept more Syrian refugees on hold until the Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances.
“Our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents,” he said.
Robert Bentley, the governor of Alabama, also announced Sunday that the state would close its doors to Syrian refugees. Governors from Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin later followed suit, with some calling for an outright ban and others for a pause until security concerns could be addressed.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin have all voiced their support and intention to continuing accepting refugees. Governors in California, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington later joined the pro-refugee chorus, too.
While most U.S. states have only received a handfulâif anyâof the more than 4 million Syrians refugees displaced by war, Michigan has played a vital role in welcoming those forced to flee their homes, as an advocate for increased resettlement.
The state has welcomed more Syrian refugees since 2012 than any other state besides California and Texas, thanks largely to politicians such as Gov. Snyder, who have touted the economic benefits of accepting newcomers to the state.
As recently as September, the Republican governor, who has called himself the most âpro-immigrant governor in America,â told a Middle Eastern-American commission he created, that he was in talks with the federal government about taking in more Syrian refugees. âWhat we want to do is to make sure if thereâs an opportunity to help, we can be proactive on this. So we are exploring that,â he said.
He also pointed out that it can take up to 24 months for a Syrian refugee to move to the United States because of lengthy security checksâthe very security checks he wants reviewed in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Prior to the attacks, advocates for refugee resettlement in Michigan said they expected that the 200 Syrians who had already arrived in the state since 2012 would be followed by many more. Michigan, which is one of the leading re-settlement states for Iraqi refugees in the country, has extensive experience with populations coming from war-torn parts of the Middle East. For that reason, it already has the experts and infrastructure in place to accept more. The state has also been eager to boost its population and lagging economy with an influx of newcomers, hungry to start their lives again.
Just days before the Paris attacks and Governor Snyderâs change of plans, Steve Tobocman, the CEO of Global Detroit, a non-profit that sees immigration and refugee resettlement as the keys to revitalizing Detroit, cited Governor Snyderâs own stance on refugees as one of the reasons why Michigan is one of the largest refugee and immigrant magnets in the country. âWhat weâve seen is almost a competition between elected officials wanting to get more refugee resettlement within their communities,â he said.
Following Snyderâs announcement, Tobocman said that he understood the governorâs concerns, but also pointed out that âmost Syrian refugees are seeking to flee the same violence that Parisians experienced this week.â
âIt would be a shame if somehow the events in Paris somehow altered the global humanitarian response to the crisis,â he said.
He added that, âit appears that several, if not most, of the Paris attackers were European citizens. â¦Would it make sense to restrict travel of citizens from those countries?â he asked. âProbably not.â
Indeed, the majority of the Paris attackers identified by authorities are French or Belgian nationals, including the reported mastermind of the bloodbathâ27-year-old Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is Belgian.
The concern over Syrian refugees stems from long-held fears that terrorists heading to Europe to carry out attacks could take advantage of the chaotic refugee crisis to avoid detection by authorities. These fears reached a fever pitch when authorities discovered a Syrian passport near the body of one of the Paris bombers. French prosecutors said Monday that the same passport â which may or may not be fake â had been registered by a refugee in Greece.
Europeâs proximity to North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey â which alone is housing more than 2 million Syrian refugees â has exposed the continent to unique vulnerabilities that the United States has not seen.
As the war in Syria enters its fifth year without a solution, more and more people are choosing to take matters into their own hands and enter Europe illegallyâby boat or by footâonly presenting themselves to overwhelmed authorities once they are already there.
Those involved in the refugee resettlement process in the United States point out the vast differences between the situation Europe is facing and the U.S. resettlement process, which is notorious for its extensive background checks.
âThe U.S. refugee resettlement process is completely different than the situation faced by countries in Europe and the Middle East, where large numbers of unvetted individuals are arriving seeking asylum,â said Matthew Soerens the U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief, one of the main refugee resettlement agencies in the country.
âIn the United States, refugees are admitted only after a very thorough, lengthy screening process that involves checks with the U.S. Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense as well as the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center. That process usually requires at least 18 months, and often much, much longer, but it is vital to ensure that those the U.S. admits are legitimate refugeesâthat they are the victims, not the perpetrators, of terrorism and/or persecutionâand that they in no way represent a security threat to the U.S.,â he said.
The best evidence that this system is working, he added, is that there has not been a single act of terrorism perpetrated within the U.S. by any of the more than 3 million refugees who have been admitted through the countryâs resettlement program.
Stacie Blake, a spokesperson for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, another U.S. resettlement agency, added that the countryâs vetting process is the most extensive screening for entering the United States.
âItâs easier to come in as a tourist, a student, or on business. The process takes up to 3 years and is very thorough,â she said. âSyrian refugees are fleeing terrorists and have been for over four years. Terrorism is the problem to stop, not refugees.â
Tobocman from Global Detroit says that he hopes any pause in the Syrian resettlement process in Michigan is temporary and is focused on answering any questions about domestic security.
“Ultimately, I do think Europeans and North Americans have to be a part of reaching out to the victims of terror in the Middle East and providing safe refuge in order to help solve the crisis,” he said.
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