GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, debate continues on federal regulations admitting refugees fleeing Syria and the Middle East. A number of governors, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, have already said they will do what they can to block any refugees from resettling in their states.
However, we know the governors’ rhetoric does not trump federal law, which allows refugees into the country using a vetting process.
Tuesday, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell continued to say that refugees are welcome in Grand Rapids and across West Michigan.
“My position has been and remains that we need to open our arms to welcome these refugees,” said Heartwell.
Meanwhile, Bethany Christian Services continues to aid and house incoming refugees. “It’s a live-saving program,” BCS Refugee Adult and Family Programs Manager Kristine VanNoord told FOX 17
“Refugees flee their first country, go into a second country, and are not able to live viably in that second country,” she said. "Less than one percent of all refugees get a chance at third country resettlement. For those that get that chance at third country resettlement, it’s really a chance at hope and a future: there’s no other option for them."
Of the 180 Syrian refugees resettled in Michigan since April, BCS has resettled 34 Syrians.
“They bring so much to our community. There’s a lot of refugees that have been here for several years that are now owning homes and are starting businesses,” said VanNoord. “They are incredible employees, are paying taxes, and are contributing to our community, our schools.”
BCS first issued a statement that explained the organization’s understanding of Gov. Synder’s concern for safety in calling for examination of refugee screening. Now, BCS reiterates the importance of continuing to house and support incoming refugees.
Though VanNoord said there are no incoming Syrian families entering the Grand Rapids area as of late November, she said, “We are able to continue to receive refugees at this time. Refugees are the most well-vetted group of any visitor that comes to the United States.”
VanNoord told FOX 17 that BCS is confident in the federal government’s vetting process of admitting refugees. It’s a multiple-step screening process involving several federal agencies, and the process can take up to two years.
Mayor Heartwell said he has no doubts about the vetting process.
“I have absolute confidence in that process that the federal government goes through,” said Heartwell. “I don’t have any reason to fear that someone is going to slip through that process, come to Grand Rapids, and commit an act of terrorism.”
Heartwell plans to attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. He is leaving for Paris later this week, despite the fact the U.S. Department of State issued a global travel warning for Americans.
“The probability is extremely low” that terrorists would come to the country as refugees, said terrorism expert and GVSU interdisciplinary studies professor Jonathan White. “Right now, we’re deciding everything on a very emotional basis, with very little evidence, a lot of emotion, very little evidence, not a lot of facts."
White said the notion that terrorists would mask themselves as refugees has become a major source of fear that plays right into the hands of what the Islamic State wants. “By not taking care of refugees, we are accomplishing ISIS’ goals, because this is exactly what they want to do: they want to drive a wedge between the Islamic population and the countries of the west."
Pending legislation in Congress calls for extra screenings on Syrian refugees.
Locally, Bethany Christian Services continues to work with West Michigan churches and mosques, including the Islamic Center of Grand Rapids, to aid refugees. VanNoord said BCS is always in need of gently used items and families to be foster care parents and co-sponsors for incoming refugees. BCS will provide training.
If you would like to help, see Bethany Christian Services' website.