Michigan’s Republican governor, who has bucked many party leaders by welcoming Syrian refugees, is putting the efforts on hold following the deadly attacks in Paris.
Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement Sunday that the Midwestern state is postponing efforts to accept refugees until federal officials fully review security clearances and procedures. He added that Michigan is “proud of our rich history of immigration,” but the “first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.
“There will be difficult days ahead for the people of France and they remain in our thoughts and prayers,” he said. “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’s spokesman Dave Murray said the governor wasn’t available for further comment.
Also Sunday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced the heavily Republican state would refuse to take Syrian refugees relocating to his state out of similar security concerns.
“After full consideration of this weekend’s attacks of terror on innocent citizens in Paris, I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the US Refugee Admissions Program. As your Governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way,” he said in a press release.
Officials say Friday’s gun and bomb attacks in Paris killed at least 129 people. One of the attackers had a Syrian passport, but it wasn’t clear whether the passport was fake or real, or whether it belonged to the suicide bomber.
Several Republican presidential candidates have criticized the Obama administration’s plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees and urge greater scrutiny. Billionaire Donald Trump, appearing Saturday in Beaumont, Texas, said the US should be more aggressive against the Islamic State and called the United States “insane” to accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Obama announced in September that the United States would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 2016.
Michigan state Rep. Gary Glenn, a Republican, issued a statement late Saturday urging Snyder to “reverse his call to relocate Syrian refugees in the state.” He said the state “should not rush to offer an open door to the high-risk importation of individuals from a known hotbed of Islamic extremism.”
Snyder had welcomed the refugees for humanitarian reasons as well as to address the state’s job and population loss. Snyder, who said that refugees who have cleared security hurdles have something to offer economically and culturally, had been talking with federal officials about what the state can do about accepting more people.
No decisions are final on numbers or locations for refugees, but the Detroit area stands out for its large and well-established Arab-American population.
Snyder’s decision to halt the resettlement concerns Michael Mitchell, a vice president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine national organizations resettling refugees for the US government. He said prospective refugees go through a 13-step process with the government to ensure security before they are admitted.
“It’s vital to keep in mind those who are refugees are fleeing persecution — the very persecution that these attackers just committed on innocents in Paris,” Mitchell said. “The doors being open to new refugees are going to mean companies getting employees, businesses starting. In the end, that is the best way to respond to violence overseas by demonstrating prosperity at home.”
Reducing or cutting admissions because of fear, Mitchell added, “is only feeding into what the attackers want.”
Friday’s attacks in Paris that left at least 129 dead and hundreds injured have raised fears of a similar assault by Islamist extremists on US soil.
Various Republican presidential hopefuls also insisted on Sunday that in the wake of the Paris attacks, America must not take in Syrian refugees because they might include Islamic State militants.
But a White House aide said the plan to bring Syrian refugees into the country carries very little risk, because the vetting process is “robust” and the overall number of refugees relatively small.
“We cannot close our doors to these people,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told the Fox News Sunday program.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.