South Carolina religious leaders condemn refugee bill

South Carolina religious leaders are objecting to a controversial measure that would track refugees. (MGN Online)

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Religious leaders are condemning a measure that would track refugees who re-settle in South Carolina. Earlier this week, the state Senate passed a measure that supporters say would protect the state from terrorists, while faith leaders say it promotes fear and discrimination. A letter has been sent to stop the bill along with any other anti-refugee legislation.

It reads in part: "This bill sends an unwelcoming message to people fleeing for their lives. Discriminating against those who are in their most dire need simply because of their National origin or faith background is immoral and unjust. "

The legislation requires refugees to register with the Department of Social Services, and that information will then be shared with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. The measure also holds the sponsor of the refugee responsible if the person seeking asylum were to commit a crime or terrorist attack.

State Sen. Kevin Bryant is one of the sponsors of the bill, and says South Carolina is at war with terrorists that want to kill Americans. Lawmakers pushed to vote on the measure earlier this week in the wake of Tuesday's terror attacks in Brussels, but faith groups who help resettle refugees, such as Lutheran Services Carolinas, say the bill is merely an attempt to discourage the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state.

The President of the organization, Ted Goins, says it would also hinder his work with refugees, saying "If this bill is passed by the House and signed into law, it would make it virtually impossible for any resettlement group to continue to serve refugees from any country in the world, including those who have been our closest allies. It appears to be an unprecedented shift in liability."

According to a government website, just three of the 784 thousand refugees who have resettled in America since September 11, 2001 have been arrested for planning terrorist activities. Although no refugee has ever been arrested in South Carolina for such a crime, supporters say they can't take any chances.

The measure comes months after Gov. Nikki Haley called for a ban on Syrian refugees coming into the state. At the time, indicating they could potentially be responsible for attacks like the ones that rocked Paris late last year.

Goins, who says Lutheran Services Carolinas is deeply saddened the Senate passed the bill, added, "South Carolina has a long history of welcoming those seeking refuge from war and violence, and it is our hope that when the bill reaches the House that it will be met with a renewed commitment to welcome and compassion."

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. If they pass the measure, it will then only need a signature by Haley to become law.

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