Beaufort News

Beaufort County Council to consider resolution opposing Middle Eastern refugees

Beaufort County could be the next to join the growing roster of S.C. communities that oppose the resettlement of Middle Eastern refugees.

County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch has asked the council to consider a resolution asking Gov. Nikki Haley and the S.C. Department of Social Services to issue a cease and desist order against any refugee resettlement and asking the local legislative delegation to do the same.

The letter cites a series of "vital issues" affecting the refugee program, including national security, immigration, public health and "religious freedom," according to the draft resolution.

"There are other countries more capable than the United States, at this point in time, that should be taking their own people. This is their culture," Bensch said Monday. "America cannot afford to continue to put itself in harm's way for the sake of goodwill. We're beyond that."

Last week, Haley joined 30 other governors nationwide in announcing that they would block Syrian refugees coming to their state following the deadly attacks in Paris amid fears that Islamic State soldiers could slip through the federal refugee vetting process.

Haley sent a letter Monday to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that no Syrians be brought to South Carolina, according to The Associated Press.

Berkeley, Greenville, Pickens and Spartanburg county councils have all passed resolutions similar to Bensch's over the past month amid some residents' concerns.

"I think we should follow the other counties who felt it was necessary to be very clear to the governor on where our county stands," Bensch said. "I'm glad (Haley) understands it and has taken her position, but I think it's important to the citizens of Beaufort County to show that certain County Council officials understand the importance of addressing this in a public forum."

The resolution could be considered by council as early as next week. It was scheduled for its first discussion at Monday morning's meeting of the council's Governmental Committee, but a quorum was not present so the discussion was delayed.

The proposal is already under fire.

The S.C. American Civil Liberties Union is condemning the counties that are passing and pursing the resolutions, said its director Victoria Middleton.

"It's just regrettable, because obviously Americans watched the unfolding tragedy in Paris and we feel for people there. It makes us all feel more vulnerable," Middleton said. "But to simply say we're going to deny entry to people from an entire nationality or religion ... It's un-American."

Bensch argues the measures are not designed to discriminate. Instead, she says they raise concerns about the possibility that members of the Islamic State could lie through the refugee vetting process.

No Syrian refugees have been resettled in South Carolina, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Last year, 121 refugees were brought to the state, but most were from Burma and Congo.

The issue has become so emotionally charged and divisive, the council will be painted into a corner no matter what it decides about the resolution, said County Council Vice Chairman Jerry Stewart.

"What do we have to gain by taking up that issue? We don't have any say in it," he said. "Our governor has come out against it. I just don't see it's an issue that the local council needs to address."

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