Protecting Michigan residents and resources

Categories: Runestad Op-Ed

Refugees are placed in states through the Federal Refugee Resettlement program, a federally funded program that contracts with vendor agencies to coordinate placements and support services for refugee families coming into our country. After reviewing reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that state and local input is essential to the safety of the federal refugee resettlement program, I developed legislation to enable Michigan departments, law enforcement and local governments to communicate regarding refugee placements in Michigan.

House Bills 5528 and 5529 strengthens the state’s role with regard to refugee resettlement. HB 5528 charges the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services with coordinating communication between the Office of Refugee Services housed under their department, with federally contracted agencies making placements and with local governments.  House Bill 5529 requires the agencies to operate with more transparency, to involve local governments in placement decisions and to report to the state police if an incident occurs which could be related to a security risk or a human trafficking event.

The United States receives more refugees each year than any other nation in the world. Meanwhile many wealthy nations across the Middle East are not accepting any Middle East refugees. According to the American Immigration Council, the U.S. states receiving the most refugees are California, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona.[1] States should have the right to determine their level of involvement with this program.

Documents received from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services detail that Michigan vendors have requested a total of 4060 refugees be accepted into Michigan in 2016. The White House announced that President Barack Obama called for the resettling of at least “10,000” Syrian refugees in the United States in the next fiscal year.[2] Due largely to secondary migration factors, our state, counties and municipalities are absorbing a disproportionate amount of refugees in numbers our state may not be equipped to support.

Refugees should not be placed in areas that are over-stretched in terms of employment, schools and other support services. Federal immigration law requires that local governments be consulted with prior to placement of refugees in their communities and that they be involved in defining their local capacity for refugee placements. The gaps in communication with local governments and schools was identified as an area in need of improvement in the 2012 U.S. Government Accountability report. I am working to confirm the extent that communication is actually occurring between placement agencies and representatives of state and local governments prior to the acceptance of contracts.

I have been contacted by citizens in Michigan who are questioning Michigan’s capacity to support increasing numbers of refugee families. The bills I introduced propose an outline for consistent communication between vendor agencies, state departments and local governments in order to minimize security risks for everyone involved.

I welcome input from key stakeholders and Michigan citizens. Please contact me directly at jimrunetsad@house.mi.gov.


 

[1] GAO-13-49: Published: Dec 6, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 7, 2013.

Refugee Resettlement: Greater Consultation with Community Stakeholders Could Strengthen Program.

[2]http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/refugees-fact-sheet