LANSING, Mich. — In a bid to clarify a decision he announced Sunday, Gov. Rick Snyder says Syrian refugees already in the pipeline or who recently arrived or are expected to arrive in Michigan soon will not be stopped. Snyder was the first of dozens of governors to temporarily close their states' doors to incoming refugees; the majority of whom are Republican.
About 20 Syrian refugees already in the midst of coming to Michigan have had to endure a thorough process lasting one to two years, Dave Murray, a spokesperson for Snyder's office told FOX 17.
"These refugees are not part of the current wave of people we're talking about," he said. "They’ve been through very exhaustive background checks. What we're saying now is, in light of what happened, let’s pause and review current safety procedures to see if we can do anything differently or strengthen our process."
Specifically, Snyder is asking the federal government and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review procedures before assigning any future refugees to Michigan. Murray said the governor's statement made on Sunday was in reference to all future refugees, not just those from Syria.
"Refugees are routinely assigned to other states, but quickly make the decision to come to Michigan because of our welcoming environment and our large Middle Eastern population," Murray said. "The governor has said he wants to make Michigan a first stop for refugees and he still adamantly believes in making the state a welcoming place."
Murray said the federal government places refugees in states across the country, and subsequently reimburses the state for it.
"It's also important to remember that these attacks are the efforts of extremists and do not reflect the peaceful ways of people of Middle Eastern descent here and around the world," Snyder said in a statement.
Citing recent violence in both France and Lebanon, Snyder said the people of those regions remain in his thoughts and prayers.
On Sunday, Snyder said he’d made the decision to suspend efforts to bring refugees to Michigan following Friday's deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. While acknowledging the state’s “rich history of immigration” Snyder said the first priority needs to be protecting the safety of the state’s residents.
In the meantime, several West Michigan agencies are working to aid incoming refugees.
Dr. Sharif Sahibzada is the Imam or director of the Islamic Center and Masjid of Grand Rapids. As the center works with Bethany Christian Services to help incoming refugees, Dr. Sahibzada said he disagrees with Snyder's suspension of welcoming refugees.
"We should not put our hands up against the evil forces, that’s the main thing," said Dr. Sahibzada. "If we have all the resources, all the powers, and we are holding our hands up, that’s not good practice and we are not helping the afflicted peoples.”
Bethany Christian Services' spokesperson Jennifer Gradnigo told FOX 17 that they understand Snyder's position but hope that it is temporary, as they plan to to house 350 refugees this fiscal year (though Gradnigo was unclear what number of refugees they will help will be Syrian). The agency released this statement:
"We are deeply saddened by the attacks in Paris and grieve for those who have lost loved ones. We pray for their strength in this tragic time.
We understand Governor Snyder’s decision to suspend acceptance of Syrian refugees into Michigan. We anticipate this is a temporary response to a devastating situation. Millions of Syrians are fleeing their homes to resettle in neighboring countries. There are still thousands waiting to be resettled. All refugees coming to the United States are vetted first through the United Nations and then through U.S. authorities, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. This screening process can take up to two years.
Many refugees are children who arrive as unaccompanied minors, having been separated from their families abroad as they fled violence or disaster. In partnership with local churches and community agencies, Bethany Christian Services provides support to refugee and immigrant families to help them adjust to a new life in the United States.
For more information on the security screening of refugees admitted to the United States, visit http://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/admissions/index.htm or http://www.refugees.org."
Meanwhile, Dr. Houssam Attal is a pathologist in the Grand Rapids area who immigrated from Syria to the U.S. in 1985. Now he and his family are training with Bethany Christian Services' program to welcome Syrian children into their home, as they have done before with exchange students.
"It will change your life and I’m almost certain it will change it for the better," said Dr. Attal.
His wife, Tamara Miller, said, “Syrian families are really tight-knit, close families. So for children not to have anywhere to go, not to have a cousin, or an Aunt, or an extended family member to take them, they are in dire straits.”
They urge other families to consider opening their homes to foster refugees, especially children from Syria.
"Don't be reluctant to do it," said Dr. Attal. "Talk to the agencies that help you understand this process, talk to other people who fostered in the past, and see what their experience was."
Yet Snyder's move has prompted sharply mixed reactions with debate on FOX 17's own Facebook post of the issue spurring both praise and condemnation for Snyder.
"That was a good decision and I wish he would send the ones back that are already here," Patricia A. Guthrie Dimmitt wrote. "It was a totally stupid idea to have these Syrian refugees come over without vetting then or any other refugees."
Others feel the move paints refugees and the issue too broadly.
"The refugees are fleeing Syria to escape the type of scum orchestrating these types of attacks,"Traver Johnson wrote. "The ones that pulled off the attack in Paris were citizens of Paris. The refugees are not the problem."
Snyder has a well documented history of supporting immigration having established the Michigan Office for New Americans in 2014. This year he declared a week in September to be recognized annually as ‘Welcoming Week’ in Michigan for immigrants.
As recently as this past September, Snyder expressed support and interest in working with the federal government to accept refugees fleeing a war-torn Syria in the Middle East, the Detroit News reported.
The discussions were prompted following an earlier announcement in September from the Obama administration saying the U.S. would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 2016.
On Sunday it was revealed that at least one of the Paris terrorists who killed more than 120 people on Friday entered Europe as just another face in the crowd — embedded in the current wave of Syrian war refugees, CNN reports.