‘Most unwelcome’: South Carolina lawmakers pass bill making refugee sponsors liable for crimes

© Reuters
Refugees sent to South Carolina will be registered and tracked, and their sponsors will be held liable for violent crimes if a bill that just passed the South Carolina Senate becomes law.

“We can make South Carolina out of the 50 states the most unwelcome state for refugees,” said State Senator Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), according to the Associated Press.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled state Senate by a vote of 39-6 on Wednesday, with some Democrats supporting the measure after a requirement stipulating that no state money would be spent on refugees, including funds to educate their children, was removed.

Senator Bryant, the bill’s lead sponsor, said its purpose is to keep the state free from the kinds of attacks carried out this week in Belgium, and recently in Southern California and Paris.

The bill requires refugees who resettle in South Carolina to register with the Department of Social Services and be tracked by the State Law Enforcement Divisions. It also creates legal civil liability for organizations that sponsor a refugee who causes harm.

“We have de-incentivized the sponsoring of refugees in South Carolina,” Bryant told the South Carolina Post and Courier. “We are going to have very few refugees to South Carolina.”

A previous iteration of the bill required that refugees’ information be posted on the state Department of Social Services website. Another version only required civil liability for sponsors of refugees from countries linked to terrorism, which opponents argued was unconstitutional.

State Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) voted against the bill because he did not view the civil liability question as something that would stop groups from bringing in refugees.

“It places liability on the host of a refugee if he commits an act of terrorism or a violent crime,” Hutto told the Post and Courier. “I think there’s a higher likelihood of getting struck by lightning while drowning than that part of the statute coming up.”

The bill will be taken up by the South Carolina House of Representatives next month. If it passes and is signed by Governor Nikki Haley (R), it will become the first measure of its kind in the country, although Senator Bryant told the South Carolina Post and Courier that New York lawmakers are considering similar legislation.

“This may be the first time that the Legislature in South Carolina and the Legislature in the state of New York are on the same page,” said Bryant. “Well, New York has seen attacks. They’ve experienced it firsthand. And hopefully this legislation will prevent an attack here in South Carolina.”

Last year Governor Haley consulted with the Federal Bureau of Investigations over concerns about resettling Syrian refugees, arguing her first duty was to protect the safety of South Carolina residents.

The federal government operates the resettlement program with the help of several volunteer organizations across the country. A state does not have the right to flatly reject refugees.

Nearly 850 refugees from countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have arrived in South Carolina since 2010, 87 of which settled there last summer, according to the Associated Press.