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Experts on refugee process dispel misconceptions about prospective Syrian immigrants

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Eric Schwartz, left, and Suzan Boulad speaking at a panel discussion on refugees and the Syrian conflict.

Suzan Boulad has recently noted a new depiction of the Syrian refugees: America’s new enemy.

“Syrian refugees are painted as sort of this new threat,” said Boulad, a Syrian-American and a University of Minnesota School of Law student.

The debate on refugees escaping the deadly conflict in Syria began to unfold two weeks ago, after it came to light that one of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks on Paris may have sneaked into Europe on a Syrian passport.    

This claim led some state and federal officials to call for more scrutiny of Syrian refugees. Until a tougher resettlement process is in place, the officials have proposed a pause in the plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States in the coming months.

“I think the presidential and other elections coming up have a lot to do with that,” said Boulad, whose aunt and cousins still remain in Syria. “There’s always a convenient scapegoat in society. It’s unfortunate that those political elements have a very real impact on people’s lives.”

Petition against Syrian refugees

Thousands of Minnesotans have also responded to the issue as they took to the Internet to sign a petition that accentuated their demand to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.

The petition drew more than 21,000 online protesters who signed it in support of closing the doors to the refugees from Syria. The petition went live after Gov. Mark Dayton’s released a statement last week welcoming Syrian refugees.

Dayton’s remarks came after at least 31 governors — almost all Republicans — vowed to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to their states and demanded a halt of the refugee admission plan. 

“I want to protect the people of Minnesota every bit as much those governors want to protect the people of their states,” Dayton said on Nov. 17. “To stand up there with swagger, and say ‘I’m going to prevent the wrong people from entering my state’ to me is just ludicrous.”

Many Minnesotans, however, don’t share the governor’s sentiment of welcoming the refugees from Syria — and elsewhere.

“No refugees please,” said Patrick Jonas, of Sartell, in one of more than 80,000 comments on the petition page. “It only takes one bad apple to ruin everything. Let them battle [their] own war.”

Steve Lindom, of Duluth, added: “We don’t want any Muslims in this state. We have homeless veterans here that can’t get help. We have homeless women and children here that can’t get help.”

Gene Baum, another commentator from Minneapolis, wrote: “They can’t be properly vented, protect our residents.”

Standing with refugees

Other Minnesotans are standing in solidarity with Syrian refugees, who are escaping the prolonged conflict in their homeland — a conflict that has so far claimed the lives of more 300,000 people.

“Our experience in the past two weeks has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Micki Schuneman, director of refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota. “We’ve gotten hundreds of e-mails from people wanting to support refugees in Minnesota and offering to volunteer.”

She added: “The e-mails and the voicemail messages I’ve gotten have been from people saying that they are hearing the rhetoric in the news about people not wanting to help refugees — and that they want to help.”

Last weekend alone, the institute received more than 400 volunteer applications and donations, including coats, diapers and baby supplies.

A crowd of more than 80 people attended the panel discussion
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
A crowd of more than 80 people attended the panel discussion on refugee and the Syrian conflict Monday night at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

For Ben Casper, director of the Center for New Americans and professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, Minnesota’s spirit of welcoming Syrian refugees doesn’t surprise him. 

“Minnesota has an extraordinary history and culture of commitment to welcoming refugees,” Casper explained. “Minnesota stands out in states as a home to refugee populations over centuries.”

The process explained

More than 80 people assembled Monday night at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs for a panel discussion aimed at dispelling misconceptions about the refugee resettlement process, which some politicians have suggested isn’t secure enough to vet refugees.

Jane Graupman, executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota who was among the panelists, rebutted that claim. She explained that refugees have to go through a list of 22 steps in a process that begins before prospective refugees leave the camps for the U.S.

Those steps, she added, include multiple background checks, several intense interviews with immigration authorities, and security screenings to verify their identities through the Department of Homeland Security.

For some, it takes two years to complete the process in the camps; four years for others, depending on the cases of each family or individual.

Laura Tripiciano, a longtime immigration lawyer, told MinnPost that many politicians may know about the process, but are ignoring the facts and are catering to certain voters who aren’t happy with the changing faces of Minnesota.

“Don’t mess with people’s lives like that,” she said of the elected officials, who she said play to the fears of the less informed. “You’re affecting people on a very personal level — being separated from their families or putting them in harm’s way.”

An appeal to leadership

Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School who was also among the speakers on the panel, applauded those who have opened their doors to the refugees seeking refuge in Minnesota — and in the other parts of the country.

Schwartz encouraged state and federal officials to stand up for what’s right in times of difficulties. “When times are easy, leadership is easy,” he told the audience.

He added: “Leadership becomes more difficult when you have to exercise political courage. This is the time when politicians who should know better, should know better.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, who organized the event, encouraged the crowd to push back in conversations if they hear family members or friends who are depicting all Syrians or all Muslims as terrorists.  

“Individually,” he told the crowd, “calling out this negativity would mean a lot and would discourage people from continuing that.”

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/25/2015 - 03:30 pm.

    Warping the Words

    This fabricated issue of anti-refugee characterization is dishonest, and those who perpetuate it expect those who don’t source their own thinking to own it. Yes, some people just don’t want foreigners around; however, in this case, that is not the honest issue. And, it is also not those few fringe dwellers who might truly believe all Syrians are terrorists. Come on. So, please stop warping the words of others.

    The clearly stated issue, given to those who bother to listen, is realistic concern that some really bad guys will embed themselves within the refugee groups. That’s it, plain and simple. Credible assurances and specific procedures of thorough inspection are as yet not truly forthcoming from Washington. Is it too much to expect details rather than scornfully pompous pronouncements from presidents and promoters?

    Anyone who believes Paris officials are chumps because they got a very nasty surprise, just doesn’t understand the excellent work of French intelligence agencies, domestic and other. Folks, after decades of internal cultural conflict and atrocities, you can bet England and France have domestic operations far superior to ours.

    Please be rational and truthful in discussing this issue. Many of us are long past tired of those who make everything a political and cultural wedge, including those who consistently misuse the term “race” when “culture” or “ethnicity” are correct. Middle Eastern peoples are Caucasian, so race has no legitimate foundation in this discussion. Correct terminology clarifies. Incorrect terminology propagandizes.

    Please promote and support intellectual integrity… and dismiss all nonsense.

    New Term: Word Warpers

    • Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 11/25/2015 - 06:06 pm.

      Your conflation of the Paris attacks with Syrian refugees….

      …. is also dishonest. None of the Paris attackers were Syrian or refugees. Most of them were born and raised in Europe. You seek to “promote and support intellectual integrity”, but then seek to create a political and cultural wedge based on false information. Heed your own words.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/27/2015 - 10:25 am.

    For the Record:

    “Anyone who believes Paris officials are chumps because they got a very nasty surprise, just doesn’t understand the excellent work of French intelligence agencies, domestic and other. Folks, after decades of internal cultural conflict and atrocities, you can bet England and France have domestic operations far superior to ours.” Nothing in that about Syrian refugees.

    Those who do not respect issues of our domestic intelligence and security, as well, just won’t get it. That is troubling, if not a bit mind warping.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/27/2015 - 11:26 am.

    I Strongly Suspect

    That those who, at times like this, talk about helping our own homeless first are the first to rail against “government handouts for those shiftless bums who won’t help themselves.” For it is those on the more progressive end of the political spectrum who seem more likely support both concerns, and those of a more right-ward orientation who would oppose both.

    I know a red herring when I see it. If we don’t help others until our own country is perfect, we’ll never help anyone else. what a canard.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 11/28/2015 - 08:22 am.

    Where are the refugees who are fleeing for their lives today, going to stay while the all the agencies do their 24 month background checks? There is no safe haven in Syria, thanks to Obama’s insistence on not having a no fly zone/protection area, the neighboring countries will not take them in and Europe is tightening their borders. So if you believe the 24 month BS, I don’t, we will not have Syrian refugees entering our country until December 2017. Somehow I just don’t buy that.

    I hear the same folks who are saying “look at the intensive screening they have to go through, we have to let them in now”. Those 2 things just don’t go together, not shocking that there is conflicting agendas in our national policies. Just look at the Mexican/USA border disfunction. We can’t even pass a bill that prohibits convicted illegal alien felons from being deported and mandatory prison time if they sneak back in our country, Kate’s law. Pretty much the norm, past few years.

  5. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/29/2015 - 01:47 pm.


    What I find amusing is the fear shown by the Conservatives. As is repeatedly shown by our mass killings, we have a large number of crazy and/or violent people in our country… And yet these tough gun toting folks seem scared that a few foreign crazy folks may slip by.

    I say welcome and may you stay safe once you get to our country.

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 12/05/2015 - 09:40 am.

    December Travel

    Altruism is the engine that powers society toward its goals.
    Pragmatism is the traction control that keeps it from slipping into ditches along the way.
    Denial is the broken heater.

    This is a season to employ rational caution while driving toward our destination.
    We really should respect the flashing lights that dictate caution.

    Events of this week may reduce travel speeds.

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