State representatives, activists prepare to squash anti-refugee bill

 

Against the backdrop of local and national anti-immigrant legislative efforts, members of the State House of Representatives and activists condemned a bill to ban the resettlement of refugees in Michigan.

House resolution 28 passed on Wednesday, Dec. 7 in the Local Government Committee of the State House, which analyzes and revises bills that have specific impacts on local cities and townships. The resolution will next go before the entire House.

All seven Republicans on the committee voted to ban refugees, while four Democrats voted against the bill, which is likely to pass in the majority Republican House.

The resolution calls for a halt on refugees coming into in Michigan until "appropriate screening and security checks and consult with local governments" are carried out by the federal government.

It was sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike McCready, whose district encompasses Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield and Birmingham.
Advocacy organizations like Emerge USA, which seeks to empower Muslim, South Asian and Arab American communities across the county, said the resolution was introduced last minute to prevent opposition.

Hassan Sheikh, a local Emerge USA coordinator, said when they heard of the resolution, the group immediately organized a social media campaign and phone banks across Arab and Muslim American communities urging them to phone their representatives to stop the bill.

They made about 700 phone calls, he said.

Sheikh added that there is outrage about the explicit anti-immigrant sentiments held by the state's elected officials, demonstrated in the bill's introduction without resistance and its passing.

He also pointed to the underhanded approach, in which the resolution was "snuck in" by the committee during the lame duck session. That's where new representatives have already been elected and the current ones are nearing the end of their tenure, hindering efforts to overturn bills.

"The social precedent this resolution may set is very horrible," Sheikh said, as it calls for a ban on refugees from any country, not just Syria."

The activist urged Arabs and all Americans to hold elected officials accountable by writing and calling their local lawmakers, while strengthening strides in political involvement.

"Bad legislation and bad policy goes away with participation," he said.

Such legislation is not far-fetched. Texas officially withdrew from the federal Refugee Resettlement Program in September, although that won't stop the federal government from continuing to help refugees relocate in the state.

Asim Ghani and Amal Rass, student activists at Michigan State University and Wayne State University, respectively, echoed Sheikh's call to action. Both helped set up phone banks and said they were let down by the vote, but were not completely surprised, given the current political climate.

They pressed for individuals to educate their neighbors about refugees being victims of a humanitarian crisis and the strict vetting they endure to enter the United States.

Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), who voted against the resolution, told The AANews he was "very disappointed" that it passed on Republican party lines.
Neeley said the Republicans' votes are more likely a popular political move that held anti-illusiveness baggage, rather than a concern regarding refugee screening flaws.

He added the committee could have heard issues of greater importance that were not voted on, like on the decline of his district's infrastructure.

Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), who also voted "no", told The AANews via email the resolution was "factually and morally wrong."

He added that legislators would better serve their constituents by working to promote compassion for refugees, as has been a basic tenet of our democracy.

"Refugees from Syria and other unstable parts of the world are seeking relief and safety from violently oppressive governments and terrorist organizations," he said. "These individuals and their families have asked the United States for the cloak of safety and security; and in keeping with the best traditions of this nation and our standing in the world, our political leaders should extend a welcoming hand to Middle Eastern refugees."

Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn), who will have a chance to vote on the bill in the House, told The AANews his office will make active attempts in the coming weeks by sending official letters to enlighten his peers and constituents about the rigidity of the refugee vetting process.

In Lansing, legislators often "prance to their voters" regarding immigrant issues, he said. He often "preaches to the choir; but sometimes the choir needs to sing louder," he said.

Darany said he has met with many refugees and resettlement organizations. He assures their screening is thorough and that they are primarily families seeking a fresh start who include doctors, lawyers and teachers— many of whom require medical attention— and "would make great U.S. citizens."

Hayssam Elkodssi, a local family attorney who regularly takes immigration-related cases, can attest that the accepted refugees are exceptionally nonthreatening. 

His office in Dearborn, where a large population of the refugees reside, is located on the same floor as Samaritas, one the largest organizations to which the refugees are referred, and which assists in finding them housing and transportation. 

Elkodssi said he has gotten to know many Syrian refugees, who did not choose to leave their homeland, are afraid and have nowhere else to go.

He said they are mainly families, including couples married more than 20 years, with children, who initially struggle financially. 

All refugees who are referred by the United Nations take two to five years to enter the U.S. If a would-be-terrorist wished to inflict harm, the most comprehensive and intrusive vetting process of immigrants to reside in the U.S. would be the worst option for them to pursue, Elkodssi added.

Elkodssi said an individual could immigrate here within a month if they only apply for a work or student visa. All they would need is to fill out a form from an overseas American embassy, an approval from a university like Henry Ford College (which accepts numerous foreign students) and prove they have about $30,000 in their bank to pay for tuition.

Banning refugee resettlement for fear of domestic terrorism seems to not add up, according lawmakers, attorneys and activists who regularly interact with the settlers. 

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