- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday his administration is talking with federal officials on the role the state can play in accepting more refugees from war-torn Syria and the Middle East, building on Michigan’s century-plus of Arab immigration and taking a different tone from some GOP presidential candidates.

Snyder spoke to the inaugural meeting of the state Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs, which works within the Department of Civil Rights to monitor, evaluate and make recommendations to the governor. He helped create the commission earlier this year.

“There is a real crisis in the Middle East with refugees,” he told reporters after addressing the commission. “Isn’t it part of our nature as Americans to say, ‘How can we help people in need?’”

His remarks follow those by Republican presidential candidate and Detroit native Ben Carson, who said last week while visiting his home state that he welcomes immigrants but they cannot alter “who we are.” He added that he wants to preserve the U.S. as “Judeo-Christian,” but backed off an earlier statement against electing a Muslim president.

Snyder, who briefly considered a 2016 presidential run, isn’t bad-mouthing anybody, but maintains that refugees who have cleared security hurdles have something to offer economically and culturally and should be warmly welcomed. Michigan has one of nation’s largest Middle Eastern populations and Snyder said he “would love to see it grow even faster and flourish,” though added there’s no specific number of refugees being discussed.

The Obama administration seeks to accept significantly more refugees in the coming budget year as millions flee Syria. Snyder said his administration is “having a good discussion with the federal government on understanding their process,” and talking with refugee resettlement agencies to determine their capabilities.

“Michigan has been a welcoming place in the past, but we have a fair amount of work to do if we’d like to be more active on that,” he told the commission.

Last year, Snyder asked the U.S. government to designate tens of thousands of work visas to Detroit to attract highly skilled, entrepreneurial immigrants to the city. While nothing has developed, Snyder said Tuesday that discussions continue with White House officials and he hopes it can be done without congressional approval.

Snyder created the Michigan Office for New Americans last year to lure and keep immigrants and promote their “entrepreneurial spirit.”


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