LANSING — A debate Tuesday over whether to allow Syrian refugees into Michigan began as a discussion of protecting the safety of the state’s citizens, but ended with charges of racism in the state Senate.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, urged Gov. Rick Snyder to continue his position of pausing the program of resettling Syrian refugees fleeing their country into Michigan.
“As the frequency and severity of ISIS attacks increase, measures are needed to protect the citizens of Michigan and the United States,” Colbeck’s resolution read. “The Syrian community has made many admirable contributions to our communities and state. However, without adequate screening and measures in place to distinguish true refugees from those who seek to do harm, the most responsible course of action is to proceed with extreme caution before permitting additional individuals from locating in Michigan.”
Colbeck told members of the Senate Government Operations Committee that it was appropriate to target Syrian refugees because “it’s the center of gravity for ISIS.”
“America will always be a nation of immigrants, who have loved America and were not seeking to fundamentally transform America,” he said. “But we do not have sufficient information to tell the good guys from the bad guys.”
Gary Kubiak, president of the Southeast Michigan 912 Tea Party, said Michigan has accepted more “unvettable” refugees per capita than any other state.
“And they’re changing Michigan dramatically,” he said in his remarks supporting the resolution. “This is dramatically changing the look of the state.”
The opposition to the resolution was fierce. Dawud Walid, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, noted that none of the terrorists involved in the attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., were Syrian.
“I don’t see the harm that the 400 orphans we were planning to welcome (would cause). These are children who fled the violence of ISIS,” he said. “I’m bewildered about what threat some poor 9-year-old or 12-year-old poses.”
Muna Jondy, government relations liaison for United for a Free Syria, said the U.S. has the most vigorous vetting procedures in the world.
“Nobody uses the term unvettable,” she said. “The Syrian immigrant story is that they flee persecution. They’re not coming here because they have an option. They’re running for their lives.”
And Sen. Morris Hood, D-Detroit, said the resolution was simply racist.
“What I see here is racism,” he said. “This resolution is an insult to America, an insult to our heritage. When it points out Syrian refugees and not anyone else, we’ve got problems. You don’t talk about the movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; Paris or San Bernardino. All of those things were terrorism. But are we addressing it here? No we’re not.”
Colbeck bristled at the characterization.
“I normally have a lot of respect for you, but I’m very insulted that you’re equating this to racism,” Colbeck said to Hood. “ISIS has its center of gravity in Syria and to go off and take it down this path instead of talking about public safety, is an insult.”
The debate pretty much ended with that and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, adjourned the committee without a vote on the resolution. He agreed to a hearing, he said, because of a promise he gave to Colbeck.
“I don’t have any plans to take it up again,” he said. “I think Sen. Colbeck and Sen. Hood have some issues they need to discuss, and how they wish to speak to each other in the future.”
Snyder was one of the first governors in the nation to back off of a program to resettle Syrian refugees in the state after the terrorist attacks in Paris. He said he wanted the state to thoroughly review how the refugees were vetted before resuming the settlement program. A couple dozen Republican governors followed suit and GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump followed it up with talk of at least temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country.
There have been no changes in policy for Snyder, said his spokesman Dave Murray. “We are working with the federal government on safety and security.”
The position came after President Barack Obama said he wanted the country to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees this year.
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