Can Citizens Vote To Ban Refugees? One Michigan Town Just Did

"We just want to be sure those who are allowed in don't have bad intentions," explains Sue Camilleri, one of Waterford township's seven trustees who unanimously voted to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in their midst. Whereas the citizens' vote to ban refugees is, by and large, merely a statement as opposed to a piece of functional legislation, it surely sends an unyielding message to both lawmakers and refugees in need of homes. "It's an opinion," township supervisor Gary Wall told local Michigan station WXYZ — an opinion that, regardless of its justifications, makes unsettled Syrian refugees feel unwelcome.

Hosting about 100 people, the crowds present at Waterford's decision-making meeting weren't as unanimously pro-ban as the vote suggests; Rather, the crowds were split between welcoming refugees and vetting them. Though some donned signs promising "Refugees Welcome," Deadline Detroit reports that a town member present at the meeting asked: "What we going to do with the refugees if they come in here, feed them, house them, clothe them? We can't afford that. We have veterans who need help."

Citing "gaps in communication between federal vendors and local governments and schools prior to the placement" as reasons for preventing the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the board also insisted that there are "significant unfunded financial burdens for receiving states, counties and local communities to provide public assistance to meet refugee needs for schools, law enforcement, housing and health care" caused by refugee resettlement. Ultimately, the board concluded the following:

The Charter Township of Waterford will not actively participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program until the Program has been significantly reformed, and until it has been demonstrated that the Townships of Oakland County have the capacity to absorb refugees without diverting funds from needy residents or exposing their residents to unwarranted security risks.

Some spoke out against the measure. Julia Hanneman-Schoenbach, a resident who attends Christ Lutheran Church, told The Detroit News that the decision revealed a lot of prejudices, saying, "It showed some divides that I hoped weren’t there."

"The town in North America with the highest proportion of Arab-Americans lies just 30 miles to the south [of Waterford]," The Daily Mail reports, which would indicate that Waterford an ideal location for displaced Syrians. Seeing as Michigan is the top destination for Syrian refugees in the United States, this measure can be seen as backlash against that influx. Nevertheless, Waterford's board has blatantly resisted opening their tows to any more of the near 11 million Syrian refugees worldwide.

Though a formal rejection of the Refugee Resettlement Program doesn't quite hold water, it does send a clear message of unwelcome to displaced Syrians. As millions search for solace both inside and outside of Syria, Waterford refuses to do its part in carrying even a small portion of the weight. Thankfully, other middle-American states are more deeply concerned how to make refugees feel welcome, working to offer much more to those who have already suffered so greatly.