Barring state agencies from interacting with refugees will hurt law-enforcement efforts, S.C. Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel told state senators Tuesday.
The senators are considering two proposals that would restrict refugee resettlement in South Carolina. One bill would bar state agencies from interacting with refugees in South Carolina.
Keel said that ban would limit the ability of law enforcement to learn who the refugees are and where they are located. The federal government does not provide information about refugees to state law enforcement, he added.
The Senate panel’s chairman, Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, said senators will address Keel’s concern by amending the proposal.
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However, others testified the Senate proposals are unneeded.
The systems to provide for the safe resettlement of refugees already are in place, Ted Goins, president of Lutheran Services Carolinas, wrote in a letter to the senators.
That group has assisted 1,500 refugees over the last 10 years, none of which has been charged with a crime, he added.
Goins said the resettlement program has a sophisticated, multi-layered approach to vetting refugees before they enter the United States. Refugees now in South Carolina already have been screened by the U.S. State Department and Homeland Security, as well as the FBI, Goins said.
Senators did not take any action on the refugee proposals Tuesday but will continue hearing testimony.
Senators meeting behind the scenes ‘unacceptable’
A group of state senators was criticized Tuesday for meeting behind the scenes — and not in public — in an effort to work out a compromise on a road-repair proposal.
“It is completely unacceptable — and probably illegal — for these senators to work out a deal behind closed doors,” said Dana Beach of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League, which opposes building new roads. “It is exactly this phenomenon of secrecy and horse trading that underscores the essential importance of getting corruption out of the highway-spending process.”
State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he understands the concerns raised but the criticism is overblown. The eight senators are not taking votes, Massey said. "We have no authority to do anything."
Massey said senators in the group have significant "fundamental philosophical disagreements" over whether the Legislature or governor should control the state Transportation Department. They also disagree on tax policy, he added.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said the senators are not a formal committee and therefore are not subject to laws requiring public meetings. Lourie said debate of a road-repair bill could start on the Senate floor within the next two or three weeks.