Steve Pardo / The Detroit News
Refugees from Iraq can again settle in southeastern Michigan, provided they have relatives or at least friends in the area.
A federal policy change, effective immediately, loosens two-year-old guidelines limiting refugees from moving here except in “family reunion” cases where they have close relatives in the region.
“This placement restriction is modified to allow the placement of any refugees in the Detroit metro region who have ties there,” Terry Rusch, director of the Office of Admissions Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, wrote in a memo to local state department agencies.
The policy change came at the request of placement agencies and organizations that work with refugees. The state is home to about 35 percent of Iraqi-born U.S. residents, according to the Census Bureau. Most live in Metro Detroit. There are an estimated 12,000 Iraqi Muslims and more than 90,000 Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Catholics.
“This is a humanitarian effort more than anything else,” said Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America — one of the organizations that sought the change. “Families have been deprived of being together and now they’re given the chance. Regardless of the economic situation, we need to see our people together.”
The State Department restricted resettlement in June 2008, fearing an influx of refugees would worsen Metro Detroit’s economy and joblessness.
Michigan’s unemployment rate was around 8 percent in May 2008. It was 13.6 percent last month, but is improving, according to the Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
Jeralda Hattar of Catholic Services of Macomb, said the region is better able to handle refugees. She welcomes the change.
“It strengthens the families and the community,” she said. “As an example, if you have a couple of brothers who live here and not a lot of relatives and they welcome an uncle, they can open a business together. Honestly, they are very hard-working and the family ties are very strong. And that is a positive thing to contribute to society.”