A state Senate panel heard Tuesday from groups involved in the resettlement of refugees into South Carolina. The hearing comes as the Senate considers two proposals that would set limits on the state’s cooperation with refugees being relocated into the Palmetto State.
The General subcommittee heard testimony about two proposals — one would require a public database of refugees and the other would ban state aid for them until the federal government establishes new, tougher background check procedures.
“We don’t know what kind of ties these folks may have to ISIS or al Qaeda,” State Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, told South Carolina Radio Network. “If you take a thousand refugees, should we take the chance that one or two of those people may be a potential terrorist.”
Bryant and other legislators proposed a halt of all refugees, particularly from Syria and Iraq, after ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris last year. One of the attackers is believed to have used a fraudulent passport to pose as a Syrian refugee — although the rest were European-born. Gov. Nikki Haley has said she would support a halt on Syrian refugees until the security check process could be improved, but otherwise supports the program.
However, officials of a South Carolina-based nonprofit involved in the process worry the proposal could lead to anti-immigrant attitudes against those refugees who have already used the program. “To see what they’ve gone through and the trauma they’ve experienced, and then to have them come here and have a lot of negative backlash, it is very discouraging,” said Lindsey Seawell, who is head of refugee resettlement for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services Carolinas.
Two organizations — Lutheran Services and World Relief — handle US State Department relocations of refugees into South Carolina. The state Department of Social Services (DSS) provides assistance to those groups once the refugees arrive. A DSS spokeswoman told senators Tuesday that only placed two refugees from Syria have been placed in the state so far, with a second family waiting to finalize their plans. Karen Wingo said authorization exists for up to 320 refugees of any nationality to be placed in the state this fiscal year, but she doubted the number would get that high.
South Carolina would not be able to stop refugees from coming, but Bryant said the state could refuse to cooperate with the federal government.
“It’s a federal program, but I would like to be the most difficult state to deal with out of all 50 states,” the senator said. “That’s the goal.”
Senators took no action Tuesday, as the meeting was just the first of several planned public hearings on the resolutions. If approved, they would be sent to the full General Committee.