Syrian Refugees In Michigan Respond To U.S. Resettlement Hesitations Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is urging a pause in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state. Two Syrian refugees there share their similar concerns, but say totally barring refugees is a mistake.

Syrian Refugees In Michigan Respond To U.S. Resettlement Hesitations

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is For the Record.


MARTIN: For days after the Paris attacks, it was just speculation and anxiety. Then, late Friday, the Paris prosecutor's office confirmed that two of the suicide bombers passed through Greece last month as part of the wave of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. In the U.S., there's been an emotional debate about whether to shut Syrian refugees out altogether. It's found its way into presidential politics. Here's GOP candidate Senator Ted Cruz.


TED CRUZ: What Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing is that we bring to this country tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees. I have to say, particularly in light of what happened in Paris, that's nothing short of lunacy.

MARTIN: President Obama weighed in himself.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now they're worried about 3-year-old orphans.

MARTIN: Recent polls show a majority of Americans don't want Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. at all. Meanwhile, dozens of governors have said they want to halt or at least pause the U.S. refugee resettlement program in Syria and Iraq, including the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder. Michigan is home to the country's largest Muslim population.


RICK SNYDER: I just want to make sure we're doing the appropriate balancing between what we stand for as America - the American dream - and also, at the same time, assuring national security by keeping the few really bad people out of our country.

MARTIN: For the Record today, Syrian refugees, the risks and the responsibilities.


MARTIN: We're going to introduce you to two Syrian refugees living in Michigan.

RASHA BASHA: My name is Rasha Basha. And I am currently the president of a nonprofit organization called Syrian American Rescue Network, which gives support to the Syrian refugees.

NIDAL ALHAYAK: My name is Nidal Alhayak. I'm from Syria.

MARTIN: Alhayak has been in the U.S. only a few months. And he's learning English. You'll hear him in translation.

ALHAYAK: (Through interpreter) First of all, I consider myself fortunate that I made it to the United States. I consider it the number-one country for democracy and freedom for humanity worldwide.

MARTIN: We'll hear Nidal's story in a moment. But first, we look back on how Rasha Basha came to this country more than 20 years ago.

When she was growing up in Syria, Bashar al-Assad's father was in power. In 1982, he crushed an Islamic uprising in her hometown. It would come to be known as the Hama massacre. Rasha Basha's whole family couldn't afford to leave the country, but they scraped enough money together to buy a ticket for her to get out. She left Syria at the age of 17.

BASHA: I was deprived from my childhood, my family and my country.

MARTIN: She went first to Canada on a student visa and a couple of years later, immigrated to the U.S. Ever since 9/11, Rasha Basha has had to endure the occasional anti-Muslim barb from a complete stranger. She cites one recent example.

BASHA: I was at the pharmacy picking up a medication, waiting in line to pay for it. And the lady behind me was yelling - you know, was shouting at me, just go back. We don't want you here. We don't want terrorists here. And this was literally, like, two blocks from my house, where I lived for years.

MARTIN: Can you tell me where you were when you heard the news of the attacks in Paris?

BASHA: My daughter - she's in U of M, Michigan University - she called me. And she said, Mom, can you be careful please? Can you try to go back home? This is - had happened.

MARTIN: And what went through your mind when you understood what was happening?

BASHA: God, you know? I said, God, please don't let it be another terror attack or another Muslim. And it didn't cross my mind for a second it would be actually blamed on a Syrian refugee.

MARTIN: Nidal Alhayak fled Syria with his wife in 2012 and crossed over the border to Jordan. He registered with the U.N. to try to apply for asylum in the U.S. He was told he'd have a good chance because he had been imprisoned by the Assad regime and tortured. Nidal underwent months of interviews and background checks. He says he was interviewed separately from his wife to make sure their stories added up.

ALHAYAK: (Through interpreter) There are six different interviews with the Homeland Security committee, where they asked us the same questions just to check for consistency in the story. So it'd be impossible for us to make up a story or lie about it because they would vet us out and make sure everything was right.

MARTIN: He says he was grilled on whether he had any affiliation with the Baath regime in Syria or other political groups. Then, more than two years after he started the process, he got a phone call telling him that he and his wife would be resettled in the United States.

ALHAYAK: (Through interpreter) Before I got the phone call, I was the kind of person who had given up on life. But then this phone call was like a breath of fresh air that blew life back into me.

MARTIN: Nidal, do you understand the fear that some people have, the concern that some people could pretend to be refugees and come into this country to attack it?

ALHAYAK: (Through interpreter) I do. I totally understand their fear. I want to assure them we're not like that. We went through a lot. We went through terror ourselves. And there's no way in the world we'd do such a horrible act.

MARTIN: Rasha Basha says concerns about ISIS coming to the U.S. are not exclusive to non-Muslims. She is also an American. She, too, is afraid. But she says shutting out refugees is a mistake.

BASHA: We do have vested interests in the safety of America from terror. You know, having family here - my kids, the city of me and my kids. We're not asking them to cut down on the vetting process. You know, I don't care how long it takes - two years, three years. And we're just asking them not to close doors completely.


MARTIN: Nidal Alhayak is setting up a new life in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., outside Detroit. He works at a manufacturing plant making light fixtures. He and his wife have made friends in their new neighborhood. They feel welcome. All he wants now is to get his parents and brother out of Syria. I ask if he wants them to come to the U.S. He tells me, of course. But really, he says, I just want them to be able to go anywhere safe.


MARTIN: That's recent refugee Nidal Alhayak and Rasha Basha of the Syrian American Refugee Network.

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