Sterling Heights residents, officials sound off on refugee policy

By: Terry Oparka | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 17, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Discussions on social media continued to reverberate in Sterling Heights following the Macomb County executive’s recent letter about refugee resettlement.

In a Dec. 12 letter,  Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, granting permission to have refugees to resettle in the county through a State Department program.

In the wake of some social media opposition, Hackel criticized rumors about the action in a Jan. 4 Facebook post. He said his letter to Pompeo will not turn the county into a “haven for illegal immigrants” and would instead only signal a continued willingness to accept legal immigrants “through a strictly monitored federal resettlement program.”

“The people behind this deception are doing the county a great disservice by fanning the flames of hatred and fear,” he wrote.

In a Jan. 7 Facebook post, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said, in September 2019, President Trump issued an executive order requiring federal departments to create a system by which states and localities present written consent to resettle refugees within their jurisdictions. However, Taylor said, the federal government defined in November that “locality” means the county or its equivalent, not municipalities.

Taylor said the City Council would take no action on the refugee resettlement matters because, as a city, it lacks the authority to effectively do so. However, he called Hackel’s move “a decision I agree with and would have made for Sterling Heights if I had the authority.”

At the Jan. 7 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, residents and public speakers continued to comment on refugee and immigration policy. Immigration advocates thanked Sterling Heights for city officials’ support of refugees.

Denni Middleton, communities coordinator for Welcoming Michigan in Southeast Michigan, said Macomb County has had a long record of “welcoming refugees and successful integration into local communities.” She said the refugee resettlement system carefully accepts “the most vulnerable persons who can neither return to their home country nor live in safety in neighboring host countries.”

“The process is lengthy and above security screening by several federal departments,” she said. “Less than 1% of the world’s refugees are approved for resettlement in another country.”

Councilman Michael Radtke supported the refugee resettlement and presented positive contributions that refugees can make to their new homes.

“Study after study after study shows that they become productive citizens, that they give back more than they take, that they start the families of tomorrow,” he said.

“We have a safe community, and we have one of the highest foreign-born populations in the state right here in Sterling Heights. So a lot of the information that’s being shouted out from the rafters on Facebook and elsewhere is just plain false. It’s just plain made up.”

On the other side of the argument, Resident Jazmine Early said she is an American citizen and an immigrant from South America, and she opposed Hackel’s actions. She asked the council where the compassion is for the residents living here and paying taxes.

“Don’t play with, to me, the humanitarian card or the immigrant card,” she said. “I know what it is to be an immigrant. And I know lately in this city there is a lot of hate for anybody who’s opposed (to) your leftist agenda.

“So I’m asking you, please, put us first. Show kindness to us, too. We deserve that kindness. Put a stop, send a letter to Mr. Hackel and say, ‘Stop. Opt-out from the refugee resettlement program, for now.’”

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