York County resolution opposing Syrian refugees fails

A much-discussed item on the York County Council’s agenda Monday night came to an anti-climactic end, as a resolution opposing the resettlement of Syrian war refugees died without a vote.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Bruce Henderson, called on South Carolina to suspend resettlement of refugees admitted to the United States “from North Africa, and the Middle East, including Syria,” until several state agencies have completed investigations into the effects of refugees settling in the state.

“Everyone in this room knows from the images on TV that if we do nothing, we will have problems,” Henderson said.

Henderson has spoken at previous council meetings about the threat posed to the United States by the Islamic State militant group and its potential to launch terrorist attacks inside America’s borders. But Monday, his resolution failed to come up for a vote when no other member of the council would second the motion.

By not taking up the matter, the council was “not upholding our oaths” to “preserve and protect the Constitution,” Henderson said.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would admit 10,000 refugees from Syria’s four-year-old civil war into the country in the year from Oct. 1, after less than 2,000 Syrians were admitted to the country in the year before. European governments closer to the conflict have struggled to absorb waves of refugees this year, many crossing the Mediterranean Sea on rafts to reach safety.

The resolution notes that many refugees are “military age males who have not been screened by anyone to determine if they have associations with Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, al Qaeda, or other organizations that regularly engage in acts of terrorism directed at Americans and our allies.”

Elsewhere, the ordinance worries refugees will receive federal assistance to resettle in the U.S., that they might not work or learn English, become burdens on the taxpayer and “build enclaves, preserving the language and culture of their countries of origin rather than fully integrate into the surrounding community.”

The motion drew support from speakers at Monday night’s meeting. Joe Newton of Norcross, Ga., spoke before the council wearing a “Stop Refugee Resettlement” T-shirt. He told the council that schools in the Atlanta area have been “overwhelmed” by previously settled refugees who speak 150 languages.

New refugees would “increase that to 200 languages, plus 18 dialects spoken by the Syrians,” Newton said.

Michael Reed of Columbia made an explicitly religious argument against resettlement. “Our founders spoke about ‘In God We Trust.’ Well, they (the refugees) believe in a different God.”

Reed also questioned if persecuted Christians fleeing the Middle East were really Christians, and claimed resettlement efforts were being pushed by the World Council of Churches, which he called a “communist front group.”

One clause of the resolution notes it would not “prevent any private citizen, Church, Missionary Organization, or other Ministry, from ministering to the needs of Christians who are displaced or persecuted in North Africa and the Middle East.”

If it had been approved, the resolution would call for Gov. Nikki Haley to stop resettlement until its effects are studied separately by the State Law Enforcement Division and several state departments: Social Services, Labor, Education, and Health and Environmental Control. Resettlement should not resume until every refugee is cleared by the Department of Homeland Security, and “Each South Carolina State Senator holds several Town Hall meetings in his or her district ... to determine that there is not substantial public opposition.”

Despite the resolution, there are no announced plans for a large resettlement of Syrian refugees in South Carolina, and if there were it’s unclear what if anything state or local government could do to stop any refugees admitted to the United States from settling here.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome