HB 5528 & 5529

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
Legislative Alert: House Bill 5528 and 5529
April 5, 2016
House Bill 5528
Primary Sponsor: Jim Runestad (R-District 44)
Other Sponsors: Tim Kelly (R-District 94), Triston Cole (R-District 105), Thomas Hooker (R-District 77), Mike Callton (R-District 87), Gary Glenn (R-District 98), Lee Chatfield (R-District 107), Joseph Graves (R-District 51), Peter Lucido (R-District 36), Klint Kesto (R-District 39), Michael Webber (R-District 45).
Bill Status: On March 24, 2016, the bill was introduced in the Michigan House and assigned to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.  
House Bill 5529
Primary Sponsor: Jim Runestad (R-District 44)
Other Sponsors: Tim Kelly (R-District 94), Thomas Hooker (R-District 77), Joseph Graves (R-District 51), Phil Potvin (R-District 102), Paul Muxlow (R-District 83), Lee Chatfield (R-District 107), Jim Tedder (R-District 43), Lana Theis (R-District 42), Pat Somerville (R-District 23), Peter Lucido (R-District 36), Gary Glenn (R-District 98), Triston Cole (R-District 105), Mike Callton (R-District 87), Klint Kesto (R-District 39), Michael Webber (R-District 45)
Bill Status: On March 24, 2016, the bill was introduced in the Michigan House and assigned to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.  
Bill Summaries:
H.B. 5528 and 5529 largely require compliance and reporting already required by federal law, regulation and contracts with local nonprofit organizations. The bills focus on refugee resettlement agencies reporting to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and state Office of Refugee Services (ORS) regarding the services they are providing, where refugees and unaccompanied minors are being resettled, and money received from federal and state contracts. DHHS and ORS in turn would be required to provide annual reports to the legislature. The bills also require refugee resettlement agencies to report incidents of human trafficking or national security threats to DHHS/ORS and the state departments to report such information to the state police.
Finally, the bills require DHHS and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) to define analyze costs and determine the state's total "absorption capacity" as well as accept statements from local governments regarding their "absorption capacity." The term "absorption capacity" is used to reference existing federal obligations under 8 U.S. Code § 1522(a)(2)(C) and (D) which requires the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to develop policies and strategies, in consultation with state and local governments, that ensure refugees are "not initially placed or resettled in an area highly impacted" and takes into account considerations including the "proportion of refugees... in the area,... employment opportunities, affordable housing, and public and private resources (including educational, health care, and mental health services) for refugees." 
Background and Analysis
The text of Michigan's H.B. 5528 and 5529 is primarily concerned with the state costs associated with refugee resettlement, state and local government involvement in refugee placement decisions, and ongoing state monitoring of refugees after arrival. The provisions are largely redundant, calling for existing federal obligations and current practices. Others are vague, impracticable, or potentially encourage unlawful discrimination.
Representative Runestad and other bill sponsors have indicated that they believe the bills are needed to address risks or threats posed by refugees. Rep.Runestad has stated, "[t]here is currently no system involving state and local governments for oversight of refugees entering the state" and that "[a]s a parent, I have a duty to protect my children, and as a state lawmaker, I have a duty to protect the rights of our local governments and our rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law."   Rep. Runestad also indicated that the federal government "won't tell [state officials] how refugees in our state are vetted."  This is a surprising claim, since Governor Snyder has been engaged since November in an active and well-publicized engagement with the Federal government regarding his questions about the process.   H.B. 5528 and 5529 do not contain provisions that Rep. Runestad described in a November press release that would have sought to stop resettlement from certain countries.
These bills should not be confused with H.R. 4731, currently pending in the U.S. Congress, which seeks to reduce refugee resettlement and exclude refugees on the basis of certain religious beliefs.  Many faith groups and other advocates at the local and national level are actively opposing that bill.
The current refugee resettlement process is already safe and transparent. Many of the provisions in H.B. 5528 and 5529 require compliance with existing federal laws or processes that are already in place. So, the legislation's goal appears to primarily be to suggest that the current resettlement process lacks necessary security and drains local resources.  Refugee resettlement agencies already regularly meet with community stakeholders including local government leaders to gauge local capacity and resources, in consultation with the State Refugee Coordinator.  General information about the numbers, ages, genders, countries of origin of refugees coming to Michigan is already made available as frequently as monthly.  Sharing private individualized information about refugees with lawmakers and law enforcement is unnecessarily intrusive when refugees have already undergone a rigorous, 12-step security screening process both before departing for the U.S. and after arrival.  The bills' sponsors have indicated that they lack information about the security screening process, but detailed information is widely available  from government and secondary sources.  Officials from the U.S. State Department and the Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement visited Michigan as recently as October 2015 (prior to the spike in anti-refugee activity following the Paris attacks) to make an in-person presentation to state officials and advocates and answer questions. 
The bills fail to address human trafficking concerns. Bill sponsors have claimed that the bills will address concerns about human trafficking of unaccompanied minors by requiring refugee resettlement agencies to report issues related to trafficking to DHHS/ORS and DHHS/ORS in turn to report such information to the state police. However,  child welfare and human trafficking experts agree that the most significant way to protect unaccompanied minors released to sponsors would be to provide comprehensive post-release services.  Case management, medical and mental health care, and legal representation would do much to support families and ensure children are not being victimized or trafficked by sponsors. This bill does not provide for any expansion of post-release services.  Extensive screening protocols are already in place and we have seen no pattern of underreporting by resettlement agencies of known issues relating to human trafficking.
Requiring the state to analyze costs and define its own "capacity" to resettle refugees may controvert federal law. While the state, local governments and refugee resettlement agencies are all consulted throughout the placement process, it is ultimately under the purview of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to make initial placement decisions. The bill's "absorption capacity" provision is vague, giving the state agencies broad authority to develop regulations to implement this process, apparently without regard to the process already established by federal law.   The negative overtones about cost analysis in the bill sponsors' statements are the cause for concern, not the facts about the actual economic impact of refugee resettlement.  (See discussion below.)
Restrictions on access to public education may encourage or require unlawful discrimination. The bill allows DHHS to require resettlement agencies to provide information about how many refugees are accessing public education services and the cost of those services to the state. It may be highly costly to provide such information, and potentially impossible to do so accurately. Furthermore, in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1983) the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that all children living in the U.S., including refugees, have the right to access K-12 public education regardless of citizenship, national origin, or immigration status. Any attempt to restrict access to public education would potentially subject the state to liability for discrimination.
Refugees contribute positively to our state and local economies.Refugee resettlement is beneficial to local communities and economies. The federal government provides around $20 million to the state and state-based organizations each year through grants to support refugee resettlement. (See e.g. FFY 2013-14 State of Michigan ORR Funded Programs, showing over $22 million in grants). The majority of refugees quickly become self-sufficient-one study found refugees were at least, if not more likely to work than U.S.-born individuals. (Randy Capps, et al., The Integration Outcomes of U.S. Refugees: Successes and Challenges (Migration Policy Institute, 2015)).  
Many refugees do rely initially on limited public assistance, but the U.S. has the only system in the world designed to require refugees to earn income through private employment  immediately following resettlement.  The public benefits refugees receive are funded largely by federal grants that create jobs and job training opportunities, and generate taxes and economic activity. (See, e.g., Chumra Economics & Analytics, Economic Impact of Refugees in the Cleveland Area). 
Specialized and federally funded refugee job seeking and training programs do exist and since 2012, Michigan Works! has provided most of those services statewide with additional support from some resettlement agencies.  So, the bill's requirement that resettlement agencies consult  Michigan Works! "to provide possibilities for employment" again seems less like a problem this legislation is solving and more like an impression it is trying to create.   Refugees also help to create jobs and tax revenues by increasing the demand for housing, goods and services, and through employment and entrepreneurship. (Id.) Our colleagues at Welcoming America and Michigan and Global Detroit have extensively documented the unique potential that immigrants and refugees have to drive shared economic prosperity, in addition to contributing socially and culturally.
"Bullet Point" Summary:
  • Absorption capacity refers to 1522(a)(2)(C) and (D) of the Refugee Act of 1980
  • DHHS and DTMB will analyze costs and create model for state absorption capacity
  • Local gov't can make statement to DHHS re: their "absorption capacity is in compliance with federal law"
  • DHHS can request info from resettlement agencies for legislature re: services and number serving, including public education
  • DHHS/ORS can give local gov't absorption capacity info before refugees placed there
  • DHHS, ORS and DTMB will verify all federal reimbursement for refugee services
  • DHHS and ORS will disclose info to state police re human trafficking/national security
  • DHHS/ORS annual report to legislature re: refugee and unaccompanied minor arrivals (placement and status), refugee programs, federal reimbursements, state costs, county and local costs, health screening compliance rates, job placement/retention rates & average wages,  
  • Refugee resettlement agencies contracting with DHHS are required to disclose federal contracts for refugee services, and any state money received
  • Refugee resettlement agencies must report
    • Human trafficking or security issues to state police
    • Annual updates on "status" of all refugees and unaccompanied minors brought into state under federal contract to state police DHHS Office of Refugee Services
    • Annual report on state contracts/programs used to provide services to refugees to DHHS Office of Refugee Services
  • Comply with immigration laws, including notifying local gov't of new contracts and prior to refugee placement
  • Place refugees in areas with "absorption capacity," making placements in communication w/local gov't and DHHS Office of Refugee Services
  • Work with Michigan Works! to provide employment opportunities