Politics & Government

Gowdy wants more answers on plan to resettle refugees in Spartanburg

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. AP

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy continues to push for answers about a faith-based organization’s plan to resettle refugees in Spartanburg.

Gowdy issued a second letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, days after receiving a written response from the State Department answering the congressman’s questions.

The State Department’s response includes details on the proposed resettlement and refugees.

World Relief, a faith-based organization sponsoring the settlement, submitted a proposal to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) on July 1, 2014, that was approved in November, according to the federal agency’s response.

“The initial interest in resettling refugees in Spartanburg emerged in April 2013 when World Relief was approached by the Spartanburg County Baptist Network. The group, along with 25 other individuals and church representatives, expressed their support for a World Relief resettlement program in their city,” State Department officials said in the response.

Community meetings were held in August 2014 and January 2015.

World Relief Spartanburg has been authorized to resettle up to 60 refugees in the 2015 fiscal year.

No refugees had arrived as of May 1. However, World Relief Spartanburg “has nine refugees in their system who may start arriving in the next three to six months,” according to the response.

Proposed nationalities for refugees to be resettled here in the 2015 fiscal year are Burmese, Colombians, Congolese, Cubans, Iraqis, Sudanese and Syrians, according to the State Department.

Jason Lee, director of World Relief Spartanburg, said the local office is looking at possibly resettling persecuted Christians from Congo, Myanmar, Rwanda and Ukraine.

State Department officials said in the response that 54 people attended the August meeting convened by World Relief, including a representative from Gowdy’s office, local church members, the Immigration Forum and the Spartanburg Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Assessments included meetings with churches, “care providers, and public school representatives, as well as identification of potential housing locations.”

Gowdy has asked for the names of people and church representatives who expressed support for the resettlement program. Gowdy also questioned whether anyone with the governor’s office, South Carolina’s U.S. senators or U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney were consulted about the resettlement.

Gowdy also inquired if World Relief held only one community meeting before the State Department approved the resettlement site.

Financial support for refugees was another question. The State Department said it provides a $1,975 grant to refugees for basic necessities after their arrival. At least $1,125 must be spent on behalf of individual refugees, while the resettlement agency keeps $850 for administrative costs related to delivery of resettlement services. World Relief also is required to make private contributions in support of refugee settlements, such as volunteer work and funding.

Refugees can receive up to eight months of financial and medical assistance through the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, as well as food stamps, medical and financial assistance.

Gowdy wants more details on background checks for refugees.

The State Department told Gowdy in its response that each refugee “undergoes rigorous, multilayered biometric and biographic screening” from several agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department and “are currently subject to more security checks than any other category of traveler to the United States.”

Plans to bring refugees to Spartanburg set off a debate between those who wish to help refugees and those concerned about how refugees are vetted and the possible impact to government services, funding for the program and other qualms.

Some elected officials, including Gowdy and state Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg), asked that the resettlement be placed on hold until questions about security, funding and other concerns are answered.

“If (Gowdy is) not satisfied, then I’m not satisfied, and therefore, my position has not changed,” Martin wrote in an email.

Lee said he’s asked to meet with Gowdy in the Congressman’s district or Washington, D.C.

“We appreciate him for pursuing accountability and government transparency on all levels, but we’d like to see some interaction with some of his constituents that are actively involved in this and not just the federal entities in Washington,” Lee said.

More than 40 leaders from the local faith community signed a letter supporting the refugee resettlement.

Gov. Nikki Haley issued a letter to legislators on April 21 backing efforts to bring refugees to Spartanburg.

Spartanburg Republican activist Larry Bateman said he has “only a couple thousand” concerns about the plan to resettle refugees. Bateman called the State Department’s response to Gowdy’s letter “lame” and “shoddy,” saying several questions remained unanswered.

Bateman also has written a letter. He expressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees in a letter to Haley, calling on her to hold hearings to provide residents the opportunity to ask questions and evaluate resettlement plans before a decision is made.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that there were more than 11 million refugees around the world as of January 2014.

A total of 69,909 people were admitted as refugees to the United States during the 2013 fiscal year, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.