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Refugee agencies frustrated, disappointed with Snyder’s delays on Syrians

Gov. Rick Snyder
Governor Rick Snyder delivering his State of the State address Wednesday night.

Several refugee agencies in Michigan say Governor Snyder’s administration led them to believe, in several behind-the-scenes conversations over the last couple weeks, that Snyder would be publicly un-doing his “pause” on bringing more Syrian refugees to Michigan.

Instead, he’s released a letter to White House officials today asking them to address “a number of concerns” with the Council of Governors, when that group meets this month.

“We are all very disappointed and frustrated,” says Jeralda Hattar, the director of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, which helps resettle Syrian refugees.   

“We understood the governor received the information he was looking for [from the federal government,] and was waiting for a written version from the federal government before putting out a statement that explains his reassurances from the government,” she says.

Lutheran Social Services of Michigan was expecting the same thing.

“We were expecting sort of the ‘all clear,’” says Sean de Four, the VP of Children and Families at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

“And that’s still what we’re hoping for, and we still believe, based on our communication with his administration, that that’s where we’ll end up ultimately.”

What exactly does that “pause” mean?

Governor Snyder has had to clarify what, exactly, he was looking to “pause” after the Paris terrorist attacks.

It wasn’t, his office says, a hold on the Syrian refugees who continue to settle in Michigan every month.

“The pause refers to efforts by the administration to increase the number of refugees accepted beyond what the federal government typically designates,” says David Murray, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, in an email today. “Representatives have [met] a number of times with White House staff in Washington, D.C. and Detroit about Michigan’s desire to accept additional refugees. Those efforts are on pause while the safety issues are discussed.”

Meanwhile, refugee agencies in Michigan say they were assured that Snyder was getting the information he needed to address his concerns.

“Governor Snyder’s office was very clear that this was a temporary pause while his administration had a chance to review the security protocols that were in place,” says de Four of Lutheran Social Services. “And it seems that now that he’s done that, we should be back on track."

“We actually had a chance to see some of the documents that the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security shared with the Governor’s office, and they described in great detail the process that is used to vet refugees. And having reviewed those documents, I can see why Governor Snyder is now satisfied.”

But Governor Snyder’s office says he’s still concerned about the process, despite receiving evidence from the federal government that the refugee vetting process is “extensive and rigorous.”

“We told the agencies that the process is rigorous and extensive, but we have concerns,” says Murray, a spokesperson for Snyder’s office.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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