All refugees coming to South Carolina would be required to register with the state under legislation that passed the Senate on Wednesday.
Senators approved the refugee registry bill in a 39-6 vote. The bill will now move to the House once they return from a two-week furlough next month.
Refugees, particularly those from the ongoing Syrian conflict, have become a larger concern to conservative lawmakers in the aftermath of Islamic State-linked terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, Belgium. The bill’s lead sponsor Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, said he is concerned the State Department lacks the adequate means to check a potential refugee’s background. “We can’t go to the Syrian government for accurate information. We just can’t,” he said on the Senate floor last week. “It’s deeply concerning how readily available fake Syrian passports have become. One of the attackers in Paris had a fake Syrian passport.”
The proposal would require those nonprofit agencies which help the federal government resettle refugees into South Carolina go through the Department of Social Services, so the state will have records of each refugee. The State Law Enforcement Division would then be responsible for monitoring the refugees who are in the state. The proposal would also hold those resettlement agencies liable if their refugees are later convicted of terrorism or another violent crime causing physical harm or property damage.
South Carolina would be the first state to pass such a requirement for refugees, if the House and Gov. Nikki Haley also approve.
State Department records show 845 refugees have been resettled in South Carolina since 2010, with most of them from countries outside of the Mideast. Of the 87 resettled in South Carolina during the current fiscal year, 2 have been from Syria.
Republicans staved off a potential filibuster from Democratic senators after they agreed to drop language that would have banned using state or local government money to aid refugees. The proposed bill also allows the children of refugees to attend public schools in the state.
“When you’re a refugee… you’re subject to the laws and you’re required to pay taxes,” State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said.
Since senators plan to go on a break next week, they also took the unusual step of granting third reading a day early so they would not have to return for another vote on Thursday.