Governor Dayton discusses Syrian Refugees in MN

“Minnesota is a much better state for being reflective of the world”

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Noor Qureishy

GOVERNOR MARK DAYTON discusses the effects of Syrian refugees in Minnesota. “To single out one group of people from one country who are fleeing terrorism themselves is just I think an extreme overreaction,” Dayton said.

Noor Qureishy, In Depth Editor

There’s a nucleus, literally [of refugees] and then it just grows on itself. I would personally welcome Syrian refugees [if they] chose MN as a focal point…I don’t think it’s Minnesota’s attitude toward refugees that’s preventing them from coming here; it just happened that way”

— Governor Mark Dayton

A flood of faces, a symphony of voices, weary but desperate to flee the insanity of their former lives, to run from the terrorism that has overrun their country. CNN reports that the United States has responded to the refugee crisis by allowing the admittance of 1,500 refugees (out of over four million that have fled Syria) since the civil war started in 2011, and has now committed to bringing in 10,000 more in 2016.
Although 31 governors have publicly announced their stance against the admittance of any more refugees into their respective states, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton will welcome refugees here. “To single out one group of people from one country who are fleeing terrorism themselves is just I think an extreme overreaction,” Governor Mark Dayton said. “To say that we’re going to prevent people from coming here, families and others who’ve been vetted carefully to me is really ill-advised. It’s not going to make Minnesota safer.”
Dayton believes that every necessary precaution should be taken when resettling refugees, and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is doing just that with their vetting procedures.
The security process for refugees has been known to be extremely selective and rigorous; refugees are subjected to the highest possible level of security checks of any traveler in the U.S. They are also reviewed by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense according to Dayton.
Dayton believes that the statements made by governors in an attempt to keep refugees out of their states are at best, showmanship. “As a practical matter, unless you stop every car that’s driving across the interstate, you’re not going to be preventing people from moving from one place to another. It’s really just a lot of showmanship and pandering to the worst fears of people,” he said.
A refugee’s journey, once they’ve been granted refugee status in the U.S. becomes a little easier. “The way that refugees usually come to MN is actually through existing family connections: we’ve only had nine Syrian refugees settle in MN since 1974 — there was a family of seven that came in the last year — but people may have come in a secondary migration,” Lauren Gilchrist, Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor said.
The federal government has not notified Dayton of any current plans to admit Syrian refugees to Minnesota.
Non-profit refugee resettlement organizations often provide most of the support for incoming refugees: “The state has contracts with non-profit organizations that are sort of the first touchpoint. We also have a state agency: that’s the point for state government to help work with those organizations,” Gilchrist said.
The non-profit system focuses on the first 90 days of a refugee’s time in Minnesota; this includes housing, health screenings, connections with the education system, and any other basic needs they may have. All refugees have access to state services non-refugees would have access to.
Minnesota has not been chosen as a focal point for Syrian refugee resettlement by the federal government or by Syrian refugees, but this is not for lack of support by local government officials or most of the public, in Dayton’s opinion.
“There’s a nucleus, literally [of refugees] and then it just grows on itself. I would personally welcome Syrian refugees [if they] chose MN as a focal point…I don’t think it’s Minnesota’s attitude toward refugees that’s preventing them from coming here; it just happened that way,” Dayton said.
However, Dayton agrees that Islamophobia has played a part in the opinions of some Minnesotans who believe that the Syrian refugees should be kept out. “I’m told there were a bunch of people that weren’t happy with my statements which disappoints me…[an opinion poll] would be skewed because of the fear element,” Dayton said.
At the time of this interview, the attackers in the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shooting had not been identified as Pakistani-American Muslims, and Dayton acknowledged that their racial, religious, and national identity may play a part in his and the public’s opinion concerning Syrian refugees, along with the public’s perception of the Paris attack.
“If you ask the question [of whether Syrian refugees should come to the U.S.] within the context of people believing that [the Paris attack was] somehow fermented by Syrian refugees, which I think is part of the misunderstanding…that really will skew [the public opinion towards refugees], If the California shooting, God forbid turns out – God forbid it happened – but depending on who it is, that will skew public opinion over here,” he said.
Dayton added that “If people make a connection that Syrian refugees are going to increase the risk of their children at a shopping center to terrorist acts, that’s going to skew their view.”
The Governor hasn’t changed his public statement supporting the admission of refugees to Minnesota as of press time.
Dayton is a strong believer in refusing to let bigoted, prejudiced perspectives against people of other cultures or religions play a part in his decision to welcome the Syrian refugees. “It’s really important for leaders, like myself, political leaders, to use what moral authority we have to stand against [prejudice] and stand with the vast majority of Minnesotans,” he said.
“Minnesota is a much better state for being reflective of the world,” he said.