How South Carolina is making itself 'unwelcome' for refugees

Posted April 21

As civil war rages on in Syria, many countries across the globe have led efforts to provide relief for the some 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes.

In the U.S., however, some states are less welcoming to refugees than others.

The South Carolina Senate recently passed a bill making the state less hospitable for refugees seeking asylum, and some say the proposal violates religious freedom.

The legislation, put forward by state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, would require all refugees to register with the Social Services Department. Additionally, religious organizations and other groups that sponsor refugees would be liable in court if the refugees were to commit any violent crimes.

“With the danger today of a terrorist infiltrating the refugee program, we have no other option than to enroll this information,” Bryant told the newspaper The State. “We’ve got to choose our own citizens over those who are not citizens of our country.”

According to The State, the bill passed the Senate 39-6 and awaits approval from the Republican-controlled House.

According to Bryant, the bill's intent is to make it more difficult for refugees to reside in South Carolina, thus deterring prospective migrants.

“We can make South Carolina out of the 50 states the most unwelcome state for refugees,” Bryant told the Guardian.

A similar bill has been proposed in the state of New York, reports NBC, though it has not yet been voted on.

"While the state may lack the ability to block refugees from coming here, we do have the authority and responsibility to begin tracking who these people are, where they are coming from and to monitor the situation for potential threats," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Hudson Valley.

According to NBC, opponents of refugee registration include the refugee advocacy group New York Immigration Coalition, which called it a "heinous bill that treats refugees who are fleeing from violence and conflict like criminals."

Opponents in South Carolina have not only recognized the harmful effects the Senate bill can have on refugees, but also call the bill an attack on religious liberty.

Because the bill appears to target Muslim refugees, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society President Mark Hetfield and Rabbi Jack Moline wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the bill is a "failure of both our religious ideals and our promise of religious freedom."

Hetfield and Moline said that conservatives are quick to invoke "religious liberty" when addressing issues that suit their political agenda, but abandon the principle when it comes to refugees.

Additionally, Hetfield and Moline wrote that to "force religious organizations to bear responsibility for any crimes refugees might commit is at once to demonize those refugees and to pretend that they do not hold the same responsibility for their own actions as anyone else."

They add that the law would deprive religious groups of their right to practice their religion by helping and serving those in need.

"Refugees have become our religious leaders and successful entrepreneurs," they write. "But most important, they are children of God, entitled to equal opportunity, dignity and respect."

twitter: @zamturner


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