The South Carolina Senate is expected to consider legislation this week that supporters hope will lessen the threat of terrorism by discouraging foreign refugees from resettling in the state.
As currently crafted, the measure would require refugees to register with the South Carolina Department of Social Services within 30 days of entering the state. The bill also calls on the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to check on whether any refugees placed in the state pose a public safety risk
Sen. Kevin Bryant, a Republican from Anderson who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he will offer an amendment that is intended to strengthen the measure. Under his proposal, refugee-sponsoring organizations in the state would be civilly liable if a refugee from a country recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism kills or hurts anyone or damages or steals property.
He said his goal is to make South Carolina “an unwelcome place for refugees that could be coming from a place where terrorists are welcome.”
Bryant and other senators have been expressing concern about refugees in South Carolina since 130 people died in coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris last November and 14 people were killed less than a month later during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
Lutheran Services Carolinas, one of two organizations that sponsors the resettlement of refugees in the state, does not support the Senate bill.
“It is unfair,” said Bedrija Jazic, the group’s director of refugee and immigration services. “We are hoping that it does not pass.”
According to Jazic, Lutheran Services Carolinas has resettled 47 refugees in the state since October.
The Senate bill also would prohibit any state or local funds from being spent to benefit refugees. However, that provision will not prevent the South Carolina Department of Social Services from using federal money to aid newly settled refugees, according to agency spokeswoman Karen Wingo.
Wingo said her department has spent $258,000 in federal dollars during the current budget year helping resettled refugees. This help has included cash, language classes, medical assistance and job training.