S.C. lawmakers consider refugee database, restrictions

S.C. lawmakers consider refugee database, restrictions

By Sarita Chourey –

COLUMBIA – As South Carolina legislators weigh proposals to track and restrict refugees, a new view of refugees is emerging.  “There are a lot of misconceptions out there as far as who these refugees are how they get here and what they do,” said Sen.Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, on Wednesday. “The perception out there is that we have refugees just coming over here, and that’s it, he said. “And we’ve also been told there’s no vetting process and that it’s hard to vet these folk.”

But that’s not the case, said Johnson, citing a state social services official’s testimony that detailed the 18-24-month background check that a refugee would undergo and information from the president of Lutheran Services Carolinas. In a letter submitted to lawmakers Tuesday, LSC president Ted Goins told legislators that none of the 1,500 newly resettled refugees to South Carolina over the course of 10 years has been involved with unlawful activity. The state has the ability to take in a maximum of about 320 refugees.

Two resettlement organizations were cited to lawmakers, Lutheran Services Carolinas and World Relief. This week after two subcommittee meetings, senators took no action on two proposals, introduced and co-sponsored by Republicans.  The bills are aimed at addressing security concerns that refugees from Syria may include terrorists.

“They are hardworking taxpayers with employers who can testify to their work ethic, dedication, and gratitude,” said Ted Goins, president of Lutheran Services Carolinas, in a letter submitted to legislators Tuesday. “Others are successful small business owners and professionals who are making a positive impact on the communities where they live and work.”

One bill, S.928, would prohibit state agencies from assisting new refugees through the federal Refugee Resettlement Program until the federal government institutes new security measures.

A second bill, S.997, would put anyone, including any organization,who sponsored a refugee on the hook for damages if that refugee committed a crime and had come from a country recognized asa state sponsor of terrorism. The bill would also require refugees to register with the S.C. Department of Social Services,which would make the refugee’s information publicly available on its website. Information would include the person’s: name, address, telephone number, job status, name and contact information of the refugee’s employer, if any, all state, local, or federal assistance provided to the refugee, criminal record, and any other information that the department determines to be relevant.

Since October 1 of last year, LSC received 40 newly arrived refugees, Bedrija Jazic, Service Team Leader for the refugee resettlement program at LSC, said Thursday. They are from Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Eritrea and Syria.She said the organization continues to serve refugees for up to five years through multiple programs. In 2010, South Carolina had about 150 refugees in the program, with about 40 percent from Burma and 40 percent from Iraq. The current discussion, however, is not the first time refugees have been viewed with caution. In 2004, residents of Cayce said they did not want Somali Bantus to be resettled in their community, pointing to their tribal culture and Muslim faith and arguing that Cayce schools could not accommodate the refugees’ children.

“LFS decided not to challenge that,” Jazic said. “We did not want to put refugees in a situation where they would not be welcome.Thank goodness there were others who said, ‘We can deal with it and work it out,'” said Jazic in a 2010 interview.