Republicans in the S.C. State Senate want to vote this week on a bill that would require the tracking of refugees entering the state.
The proposal also would hold refugees’ sponsors liable for any crimes committed by settlers from terrorist nations.
Opponents filibustered the bill last week. But the attacks Tuesday by ISIS terrorists in Brussels are expected to speed the Senate’s action. The attack at a Belgian airport and subway station killed at least 31 people and wounded nearly 190, according to news reports.
State Sen. Kevin Bryant, the Anderson Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said S.C. authorities have little or no knowledge of the background of refugees entering the state.
“We’re not going to roll out the red carpet for ISIS,” he said.
Thus far, only two Syrian refugees have resettled in Richland County, arriving late last year with the help of the Lutheran Services Carolinas charity. However, that group has resettled nearly 50 refugees from different countries in the state, according to published reports.
Sen. Kevin Johnson, a Clarendon Democrat who opposes the bill, said lawmakers should have compassion for refugees fleeing violence in their homelands, rather than try to make it harder for them to settle in South Carolina. He said refugees would prefer to remain in their countries but can’t because of violence.
“The attacks in Brussels make the point that I have been trying to make all along,” he said. “We have people in these countries ... they’re living in absolute terror and someone has to be concerned about their plight. These people need a safe place to go.”
Johnson said lawmakers who favor the bill have little trust that federal law enforcement and government officials can stop terrorists from entering the state disguised as refugees.
Johnson added, “I have faith in these agencies, that they’re going to do all they can.”
If passed, the bill would require:
▪ Refugees to provide their address, telephone number, work information and criminal record to the S.C. Department of Social Services within 30 days of arriving in the state
▪ Social Services to post the refugee database on its website and share information about refugees with the State Law Enforcement Division
▪ SLED to check that refugees pose no safety risks
Also, sponsors who bring refugees from a country recognized by the federal government as a state sponsor of terrorism could be held liable in civil court for any criminal activity by those refugees.
Bryant said he plans to eliminate a provision in the bill that would require that no state or local government money be spent to benefit refugees. Opponents raised questions about how that would affect child refugees who attend public schools.
New York is the only other state in the country now considering a similar refugee registry, the Associated Press reported.
The Republican-dominated Senate gave the bill priority status by a 32-4 vote last month. All four “no” votes came from Democrats.
However, eight Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Nikki Setzler of Lexington, backed putting the proposal at the top of the Senate calendar. Setzler said he supported debating the bill, but would not say how he will vote on the proposal.
If it passes the Senate, the bill still must win approval in the House and Gov. Nikki Haley’s signature before it would become law.
Haley, a Republican, has expressed her concerns about the lack of vetting of refugees to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James Comey.