Nov. 18 2015 11:45 AM

Barring Syrian resettlement not really about public safety

The horrific massacre in Paris last week has elicited the predictable response in the United States.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Sunday suspended efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Michigan. He was just the first. Recognizing political opportunity, Republican governors (and one Democrat), fell all over themselves proclaiming their state Syrian-refugee-free zones. Which governor — some of them presidential candidates — will be the first to call Japanese-style internment?

Snyder couched his closed-door proclamation, saying, “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.” He wants the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review its procedures for screening Syrian refugees. According to USA TODAY, the agency has helped resettle about 1,800 to 2,000 refugees in Michigan over the last year, about 200 from Syria. He clarified his position on Monday, saying that 20 Syrians recently approved for resettlement could come to Michigan. But aren't these poor souls vetted under the review he's questioning also a risk? And what about the 200 Syrians already here?

Snyder's “protecting the safety of our residents” rationale for slamming the door on Syrians might ring true if the goal of public safety was applied uniformly by the state's Republican power structure. But in this gun crazy state, where the Legislature is proposing to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons — it wants them in libraries, churches, colleges and taverns — immigrants aren't the problem. Guns are.

There were 535 murders in Michigan last year, most of them involving guns. It is among the top 10 states for homicides: 6.7 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are no easy answers to the refugee crisis, but is stranding victims of war and oppression in overcrowded camps the answer? And can any screening policy really guarantee safety against fanatics on a suicide mission?

Snyder may consider Michigan a “welcoming state,” and it sure needs to be. Population growth is flat. Immigrants are a way to replenish failing cities like Detroit and Flint, with people showing the energy and drive to leave their homeland and settle in a new and different nation.

But there is a definite xenophobic streak at play in Michigan, notably a proposed law that would cripple the welcome extended by the state's sanctuary cities: Detroit and Ann Arbor.

There are more than 200 sanctuary cities in the U.S., a movement with roots in the 1980s efforts by churches to offer assistance to Central Americans’ fleeing violence and warfare in their native countries. Sanctuary cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor believe that they improve public safety by working with immigrant communities — legal and illegal.

What Republican legislators want is a law that requires stricter police actions against illegal immigrants. The bill is pending in the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Grand Ledge Republican Rick Jones. Titled the “Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act,” it has four notable provisions.

It would prohibit local governments from enacting or enforcing laws limiting cooperation with federal officials about a person's immigration status. It would require public bodies to notify its police and other employees of this requirement.

Peace officers who believe they have probable that someone they arrest is in the country illegally would be required to report that person to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

And finally, the bill requires the state to withhold revenue sharing payments for each year or portion of a year that a local government fails to comply with the act.

The measure comes with reporting requirements to the Legislature and to ICE that the Senate Fiscal Agency said would increase the costs to cities, villages, townships, and counties by a small but indeterminate amount and could reduce state revenue sharing payments to some local governments. The measure also would increase the administrative costs of the Michigan Legislature and the Treasury Department by a minimal amount.

It noted that there are 171,800 local government employees in the state, not counting those in education. All would require notification.

How serious is the illegal immigrant problem in Michigan? No one really knows.

While acknowledging that much of the criticism of illegal immigrants is anecdotal, Jones stressed that the country must regulate its borders. He said that he has had complaints from young people who said illegal immigrants were taking their jobs, and remarkably expressed sympathy for union carpenters union who claim unfair competition from illegal immigrants. Generally, Jones is not perceived as a staunch union supporter.

There are some easy points to score by talking tough about threats from Syrian refugees and illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, though predictably, they skirt the real problems and do little to make America safer or more economically secure.