Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, like other elected officials in Michigan, last month sent a letter to the federal government indicating the county’s willingness to continue receiving legally settled refugees.
But he never expected the social media furor that erupted next as people accused him of supporting bringing “illegal immigrants” into Macomb County. Hackel blamed unnamed political interests who were attempting to alarm residents into believing the county wants to become a haven for illegal immigrants.
On Saturday, Hackel took to his own Facebook page to respond, saying the letter “had absolutely nothing to do with illegal immigration.”
“That is an out right lie!” he posted, adding “Macomb County has always welcomed LEGAL immigrants and I know of no community in the county that denies them access.”
The posts appeared on several different community Facebook pages.
“Absolutely not,” one person posted on a Facebook page that had more than 460 comments. “There isn’t enough control over people being labeled refugee and those who are illegal immigrants. No American city should have to subsidize this,”
That was among the milder comments.
“The county gets lots of money to take in these people. They will mostly be Muslims, who will want us to conform to their way of life. It’s happening all over the country. They will get welfare, and subsidies housing, all paid for by you! Mark Hackel is an idiot!” another person posted in a forum with more than 300 comments.
“Let’s see how compassionate you are when ‘refugee’ MS-13 gang members start shooting up your neighborhood or when some ‘refugee’ dude on the government dole with 4 wives & 20 kids moves in next door to you! This is crap!” another posted.
Many commenters wrote that they should have had been able to vote on the matter, and some took Hackel to task, with one person writing “that’s a career ender, Mark. PLEASE AMMEND.”
Others supported Hackel and his Dec. 12 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and provided information about refugees in the comment strings.
“Welcoming Michigan has been a thing for AT LEAST five years that I can recall. This isn’t new or going to change your average day to day life. This is just pot stirring and you all are falling for it. Its simply reaffirming things that are already in place,” one person wrote on a site where there were nearly 580 comments.
Another wrote: “We already have a large ethnic population, as long as they aren’t illegals, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. Calm down people…”
“Wonderful,” another wrote. “I’m very proud Macomb is my home.”
Hackel said those behind the posts were “doing the county a great disservice by fanning the flames of hatred and fear,”
“One in nine people currently living in Macomb County is foreign born,” Hackel said in his Facebook post. “LEGAL immigrants contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life in our county and we will continue to welcome them. Of course the elected officials in any of our communities are free to express their political views, however I will not standby and have them misrepresent the good work that we do.
There have been 844 comments on Hackel’s post as of Wednesday.
Hackel, a Democrat, blamed “certain political interests” using “scare tactics” in an election year for instigating the social media posts on Facebook. He said he believes the politics isn’t partisan, but more personal — aimed at him — though he wouldn’t say who he thought was behind the posts.
“It had nothing to do with illegals, but someone wanted to give the impression it was,” Hackel said of his letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Hackel’s letter to Pompeo was in response to an executive order signed in September by President Donald Trump about enhancing state and local involvement in refugee resettlement.
Hackel consented to initial refugee resettlement in the county as did his counterparts, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Oakland County Executive David Coulter, in their own letters to Pompeo obtained by the Free Press.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also sent a letter Dec. 10 stating that Michigan has a “rich history of welcoming refugees and other immigrants;” that refugees enhance the state “socially, culturally, and economically,” and “(w)e would gladly continue to welcome them to Michigan.”
Evans’ Dec. 16 letter was brief — just three sentences — that stated as county executive he consented to initial refugee resettlement in Wayne County.
Coulter’s Dec. 10 letter was longer. He, too, consented to initial refugee resettlement in Oakland County and wrote that from 2007 to 2016, Oakland County accepted the highest percentage of refugees in southeast Michigan.
In his letter, Coulter identified a refugee as “person who has been forced to flee their home and is unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”
He wrote the county welcomes this displaced population and offers them a safe space to rebuild their lives.
In his letter, Coulter stated refugees have been an important source of population and growth; that refugee entrepreneurs generated between $70.1 million and $90.2 million in economic benefits for southeast Michigan, including between 319 and 410 local jobs. He added that $130.8 million in state and local taxes were paid by refugees in 2015.
Spokesmen for Evans and Coulter said Tuesday that they were unaware of backlash to their executives’ letters, with one stating there were just a handful of social media responses and most were supportive.
But for Hackel, the response was very different.
On Jan. 3, he penned a letter to chief elected officials in communities in the county to address “some confusion” over his Dec. 12 letter. He stated that his letter doesn’t “prevent a local government from expressing its desire to not be designated as a resettlement community for legally admitted international refugees.”
He said every local community within the county is free to withhold its consent. If a community chooses to do so, it can communicate with his office and Pompeo.
On Monday, Hackel sent a follow-up letter to Pompeo, saying he didn’t know whether Pompeo received similar reports from other localities.
“I am doing what I can to clarify the matter, but social media deceptions always spread faster than clarifying posts,” Hackel wrote. “As a result, I feel it would be very helpful if you could provide me with a letter or some other official statement that I could use to reassure county residents that the (p)rogram is only intended to serve immigrants that have been legally admitted to our country.”
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