Michigan Town Votes Against Resettling Syrian Refugees

Citing concerns over security, town leaders voted against welcoming refugees.

ByABC News
October 25, 2016, 6:21 PM

— -- Officials in a Michigan town have voted to reject the resettlement of Syrian refugees within their community.

The Board of Trustees for Waterford Township voted unanimously on Monday night in favor of a resolution stating that their township "will not actively participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program until the Program has been significantly reformed, and until it has been demonstrated that the Townships of Oakland County have the capacity to absorb refugees without diverting funds from needy residents or exposing their residents to unwarranted security risks."

Anthony Bartolotta, one of the township's seven trustees, told ABC News today that the general goal of passing the resolution was to send a message to elected officials.

"The resolution is sometimes only worth the paper it's written on, but what we are letting elected officials know in the county, and in the state, is that until you do the vetting process properly we don’t want to allow the refugees into Waterford Township, but when they do the vetting process the proper way, we would welcome them," Bartolotta said.

The resolution is largely symbolic since township officials have no way to prevent a Syrian refugee from moving into the township after the refugee is approved to resettle in the United States.

"It is not the refugees themselves. I know they're some very good people. It is a shame that you have to feel this way," Bartolotta said. "But I've got homeless vets out here, we've got senior citizens that have to balance between buying their medication and buying food. We have to take care of our own first."

"Some of these refugees, bless their heart, they just don’t have any documentation of where they come from," Bartolotta added, saying that security in the town was also a concern.

However, senior administration officials have noted that Syrian refugees are subjected to "the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of people entering the United States."

The process often takes one to three years to complete and includes biometric testing and intensive overseas interviews with Department of Homeland Security experts.

DHS officials told ABC News last year that refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, "including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime."

Bartolotta said he personally does not know of any Syrian refugees in his town, but at Monday's meeting, it was mentioned that there were three Syrian refugee families already resettled in Waterford.

Bartolotta said at the hearing that he estimates the public was about 70 percent for the resolution and about 30 percent against it.

The main concern about Syrian refugees is about safety, but there are also concerns about health, Bartolotta said, noting he has heard of several cases of refugees bringing in tuberculosis.

"Some of the people last night that were against us passing the resolution. They were yelling at us and saying we were wrong, but not one of them said they would sponsor a family and take them into their home. It just seemed hypocritical," Bartolotta added.

The Obama administration announced at the end of August that the U.S. has met a goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. plans to take in 85,000 refugees from around the world in total this year.

Arjwan Khadoori, a refugee specialist who works with the Lutheran Social Services of Michigan in Troy, Michigan, to help resettle immigrants, told ABC News today that he has already assisted in resettling Syrian refugees into towns in Michigan.

"I am not going to agree with anybody who is against the refugees because the refugees are human beings, and they have their rights. We have to serve the people from anywhere," Khadoori said in reaction to news of Waterford Township's resolution.

"Christian, Muslim, black, white -- no, they are all human," Khadoori added.