The attacks in Paris last week have sparked nervousness from South Carolina leaders about Mideast refugees who have been resettling in South Carolina.
Gov. Nikki Haley’s office sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday asking that no Syrian refugees be included in two ongoing resettlement programs that cover South Carolina. The governor cited concerns about “gaps in the available intelligence for those leaving Syria” for her position.
“Until I can be assured that all potential refugees from Syria have no ties to terrorist organizations, I am requesting that the State Department not resettle any Syrian refugees in South Carolina,” the letter stated.
Earlier Monday, the governor told reporters she supports the program in general. The daughter of Indian immigrants said two interpreters who once worked with her husband Michael during his 2013 National Guard deployment had used the program.
“These are people who have been persecuted for being Christian in other countries,” Haley said. “These are people who’ve been persecuted for their political beliefs. These are people who were interpreters for our military and saved our American lives and so, in turn, we saved theirs.”
Haley’s position may be academic. No Syrians have been relocated to South Carolina as of October and the federal government would conceivably have the power to override her request under the 1980 Refugee Act. U.S. immigration officials are attempting to reassure the public that the vetting process for refugees is more intense than other forms of immigration.
However, State Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) is among Republican legislators who sent a letter to Haley calling for an end to all refugees from “Jihadist strongholds” in the Middle East and Africa. “We’re a compassionate state, but we’re also a common sense state,” he told South Carolina Radio Network afterwards. “And common sense will tell you: ‘Stop receiving these refugees’… France is an example.”
Peeler said “we can’t take that chance” that even one of the refugees could turn out to be an ISIS sympathizer. A second letter signed by 13 Upstate legislators seconded his argument.
Clouding the issue is that, while French officials believe those involved in the Paris attack had ties to ISIS in Syria, it’s not clear at this point if they were refugees. Among the four suspected attackers positively identified so far, all were French or Belgian nationals. The identity of a fifth is less certain. CNN quoted an anonymous French senator as saying the man had used a fake name and Syrian passport to enter Greece and later seek asylum in Croatia. If true, that attacker may have taken advantage of the ongoing refugee crisis to slip into France. Other attackers have not been publicly identified at this point.
Governors from 23 states so far — mostly Republican — have made it clear they do not want any Syrian refugees relocated within their borders. That list includes Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory.