From the Daily: Snyder's response is unacceptable

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 8:37pm

Following recent terror attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, 31 governors, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, announced their opposition to accepting Syrian refugees into their states. Though the process of admitting refugees isn’t within their jurisdiction, the governors’ statements reflect the fear of the general populace in light of the harrowing attacks. However, these responses are unacceptable, as they’re based in reactionary fear, not fact or reason, and vilify refugees who are more directly affected by the violence than most Americans.

Snyder’s response, which he later clarified to rather halt accepting refugees until U.S. security procedures are reviewed, is especially concerning considering that Michigan has the largest population of Arab Americans in the country. Last week’s attacks directly affected his constituents: Among the casualties of the Beirut bombing were three Dearborn residents. Additionally, Michigan’s immigration rates rank among the highest in the country, of all refugees in the United States, 4 percent come to Michigan. Snyder has previously expressed his support of taking in Syrian refugees in the past, noting their positive contributions to the economy.

Therefore, Snyder’s remarks seem aimed to cater to party opinion — all but one of the 31 governors who denounced the absorption of Syrian refugees were Republicans. As an elected official, it’s Snyder’s responsibility to advocate for his constituency, not for what his party wants to hear at the national level.

Since 2001, the United States has absorbed 745,000 refugees. Of that 745,000, only two refugees have been arrested under charges of terrorism. The people seeking refuge in the United States aren’t the ones trying to destroy Western culture — they’re trying to flee persecution and find a safe environment where they can uphold their values and beliefs.

While President Barack Obama’s call for the United States to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year is a step in the right direction, it fails to take into account the United States burdensome asylum process. In the past four years, the United States has taken in barely 2,000 refugees from Syria, with just 200 refugees admitted between 2011 and 2014. Such slow rates of entrance may be attributed to the laborious and incredibly strict asylum process for Syrian refugees. It can take up to two years for a Syrian seeking asylum seeker to finally be granted permission to move to the United States.

A Syrian refugee must apply for asylum through the UN or a U.S. embassy, conduct face-to-face interviews and participate in extensive background checks to prove that neither they nor any member of their extended family gave so much as a cigarette to a member of a “terrorist group” recognized by the U.S. government. Such a system undermines the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” that’s meant to pervade our justice system. Such a system perpetuates Americans’ fear of foreigners.

Our politicians’ xenophobia is cause for alarm, as the nature of the Syrian refugee hasn’t changed in light of these attacks. If anything, the attacks make refugees escape from the Islamic State more urgent.

What’s so abhorrent about the responses of our country’s leaders is that they capitalize on their constituents’ fear, claiming a stake in tragedy to bolster their own political agenda. Many Republican politicians, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, pegged France’s strict gun control laws as a leading contributor to the magnitude of the devastation in Paris. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and other GOP candidates said they would allow Christian refugees to settle in their states, as if Muslim refugees aren’t disposed to the same risks as their Christian counterparts.

But, since people are afraid, they listen. They listen closely. They internalize these assertions made under false pretenses and create a discriminatory and potentially dangerous environment for new immigrants. As if it isn’t already hard enough for refugees to seek asylum in the United States, those who make the cut quickly find that they have come to a country where they will be marginalized by merit of where they come from, not their own personal beliefs.

This baseless discrimination clashes with the values of acceptance of others and of religious and cultural freedom that America stands for. Snyder should take note of these facts in order to foster a state in which all residents, whether they were born here or not, can exercise their rights without fear of unfounded prejudice.