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Will Gov. Rick Snyder hit the “un-pause” button on efforts to take in more Syrian refugees?

The federally-created Council of Governors has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. This is the group of 10 governors (always five Republicans and five Democrats) that gives the federal government the states’ perspectives on national security issues.

This is also the group that Governor Snyder said he wanted to conduct a review of federal security policies after the self-proclaimed most pro-immigration governor called for a “pause” in resettling refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries after last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Egypt.

You can read the letter below:

“It’s important that there are people in need across the world and that we’re open to those folks. We just want to make sure we’re following best practices and making sure we’re keeping our country safe,” Snyder explained.

This call for a “pause” in relocating refugees to Michigan wound up creating a lot of problems. First, refugee relocation services in Michigan were not given a heads-up that this was coming. So, there was a lot of uncertainty on what exactly they should, or shouldn’t, be doing.

Furthermore, there wasn’t actually a halt in the relocation of refugees. The governor was talking about a program that’s still under development. Back in September, he said he wanted the federal government tosend more Middle Eastern refugees to Michigan under an Obama administration program that would bring ten-thousand refugees to the U.S. next year.

But, the fact is, there are still refugees from Syria and the Middle East coming and resettling right now under existing – and, apparently, acceptable - security protocols.

Likely the biggest problem that came from Snyder’s announcement of a “pause” was that no one in the administration predicted that, after he made his decision, a lot of other Republican governors would also get into the act. Though these governors called for things like actually calling for border closures, Snyder got lumped into this group.

The governor tried to get in front of the issue with an essay in Time magazine and an interview with NPR but, still, last week, Snyder was called out on the front page of The Detroit Free Press in an editorial accusing him of feeding into anti-Muslim bigotry.

Snyder responded yesterday with a full-throated defense of his record on immigration and inclusiveness in a sharply worded letter to the editor. An explanation that was, perhaps, several weeks overdue.

The “pause” was a messaging error that called for a clear, blunt explanation to re-set the conversation.

Instead, the administration’s response became squishy. The governor never really explained what a “pause” meant. And, as it turns out, it was more rhetorical than practical.

The governor says he’s no longer publicly advocating for stepped-up resettlements but conversations with federal officials continue. Refugee relocation groups also are continuing to plan and prepare for refugee arrivals that are still months away. There’s really no evidence that any activity was actually paused by this “pause.”

So, we’ll see what Governor Snyder has to say after the Council of Governors meeting tomorrow. And, of course, we’ll see if he can re-establish control over the conversation on bringing refugees to Michigan.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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