A bill has passed the South Carolina Senate that requires two things of organizations sponsoring immigrants to the state: one, that they register them with the Department of Social Services, and two – the requirement that has prompted protest – that they be held legally responsible if the refugees they’ve sponsored commit crimes or terrorist acts after coming to the U.S. The Washington Post:
“I fear this may be the start of similar nationwide legislation,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian nonprofit group that helps resettle refugees who have been vetted and approved under a federal program run by the State Department.
Although World Relief and many evangelicals in the state have opposed the legislation, many of its Senate supporters belong to evangelical churches, highlighting a growing split within evangelicalism over immigration and refugee issues.
Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist minister opposed to the bill, noted that six of the bill’s eight co-sponsors are Southern Baptists. The bill’s evangelical opponents have charged it violates their religious freedom.
Yang called the bill “wrongheaded,” “grotesque” and “anti-faith” and said World Relief worries that if passed, the bill would “infringe on our ability to carry out our mission, which is a matter of carrying out our faith and practicing our religion, to help people who are vulnerable.”
Many of the state’s refugees have been heavily vetted by the State Department, says Jason Lee:
Jason Lee, director of World Relief’s South Carolina office in Spartanburg, said more than 80 percent of refugees the group had resettled in the state have been Christians, some of them fleeing religious persecution. None of the refugees World Relief has resettled in the state have come from Syria, and only a handful of refugees from other countries have been Muslim.
Two Republican senators from Spartanburg County were among the co-sponsors of the bill, and a Democrat from the county voted for it. In the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:
One church assisting refugees with food, clothing and services is New Life Deliverance Worship Center in Spartanburg.
The church’s senior pastor, Bunty Desor, said if the bill passes it will be a big issue, but it won’t stop his church from helping refugees.
“With the refugees we’ve adopted as a church, I have no doubt they’re going to be successful in the United States,” he said. “We’re safe with the refugees we do have in Spartanburg and they’ve been assets to us.”
About 30 of the local refugees attend classes at the Adult Learning Center in Spartanburg, which provides basic literacy skills, computer and pre-employment training, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and GED and pre-GED prep.
Jana White, an ESOL coordinator and English teacher at the Adult Learning Center, said making refugees register would be treating them as if they are criminals.
“The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) has the address and personal information on every refugee who enters,” White said. “If this information needs to be shared confidentially with our State Bureau of Investigation, that’s fine, but to publish their names and addresses would not only invade their privacy but could make them targets of ignorant hate groups.”
Photo from SCETV.