York County has gone on the record on the plight of Syrian refugees, asking that those seeking shelter from the war in the Middle East not come to the state.
By a 4-3 vote, the York County Council approved a resolution Monday night supporting Gov. Nikki Haley’s request that refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war not be relocated to South Carolina because of fears terrorists might slip into the country in their midst.
Britt Blackwell, Christi Cox, Michael Johnson and William “Bump” Roddey voted in favor of a motion to halt the resettlement of 10,000 people scheduled to be admitted to the country next year. Bruce Henderson, Robert Winkler and Chad Williams voted against the motion.
The motion follows weeks of public comment from people concerned about the threat posed by refugees, two terrorist attacks associated with the Islamic State group, and the rewriting of another anti-refugee resolution that the council initially rejected.
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The resolution calls on Haley to “to continue to oppose resettlement in South Carolina ... until such time as proper safety measures have been implemented,” and for counties to be allowed “to decide on a case by case basis whether state and local funds may be used to assist refugees.”
At the same time, the York County Council asked its citizens to “reject with steadfast resolve fear and any anti-Constitutional notion” that refugees should be “shunned or discriminated against solely due to their religious affiliation.”
Henderson originally proposed a motion opposing refugee resettlement “from North Africa, and the Middle East, including Syria,” and calling on a long list of state agencies to sign off on the program before refugees are allowed into South Carolina.
But on Monday he voted against a revised motion, feeling it hadn’t gone far enough.
Stop the Muslim invasion of York.
Sign held outside York County Council before a vote on Syrian refugees
“What will it take for us to finally be upset enough to say ‘no?’” Henderson asked. “Will it take what happened on that dance floor in Paris... or in San Bernardino?”
Over 100 people were killed in Paris on Nov. 13, in an attack where all of the identified perpetrators were either citizens of France or other European countries. Fourteen were killed in the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting by an American-born citizen and his Pakistani wife who entered the country on a marriage visa.
Henderson’s first motion died when no other council member would give it a second, and only later did the council ask for a new motion to be drawn up after multiple speakers at council meetings called for one.
Council members on both sides of the vote admitted they were limited in what the county can do to oppose the program. Even after Haley called for refugees not to be sent to the state, two Syrians were resettled in the Midlands without the governor’s office being informed. More Syrians may still be sent to the state.
“This resolution won’t make the people who are asking for this happy,” said Councilman Chad Williams.
Williams said reading Henderson’s original motion “reminded me of rounding up the Japanese during World War II, one of the most shameful periods in the country’s history.”
“I’m going to vote against this because I don’t want people to think York County voted for that,” he said.
Many turned out again to speak against refugees coming into the state. Outside the council building on Monday, Nelson Waller of Anderson stood on the roadside with a sign calling for the council to “Stop the Muslim invasion of York.”
This resolutions seems to be a response out of fear.
Rev. Sam McGregor, Allison Creek Presbyterian Church
“I’m concerned the country is turning into a free-for-all,” Waller said. “It’s not a country if you don’t have any borders.”
Waller was not deterred by the fact South Carolina had been unable to stop Syrians from coming into the state.
“Every governor should say ‘no,’” he said. “Every city or county could say ‘no.’ Is this our government or somebody else’s?
Regardless of the race or religion of refugees, Waller said, “the ark is overloaded and it’s going to sink.”
Others expressed security fears during the meeting, with one woman telling the council she would worry about her children’s safety in school if refugees were in the county. Henderson also told his fellow council members he feared people will be murdered, raped, or “burned alive” if refugees are admitted to the U.S.
The Rev. Sam McGregor with Allison Creek Presbyterian Church was the only member of the public to speak against the resolution Monday, arguing Jesus was a “Middle Eastern refugee” when he was born in a manger, and then fled the government of King Herod.
At his church, “we host events where Christians and Muslims don’t fight. They get to know each other and build relationships,” McGregor said. “This resolution seems to be a response out of fear, and fear is not a good thing.”
When they finally cast their votes, council members seemed weary of the emotional responses the debate had drawn out over several meetings in recent weeks.
“I think it’s unfair that patriotic Americans have been called racist or religiously intolerant when they stand up for traditional values,” Blackwell said.