Berkeley County, South Carolina’s council on Monday unanimously passed a resolution calling on “all South Carolina public officials to immediately cease and desist” from helping to resettle Middle Easterners in their backyard.
“I can’t take the chance on my 8-year-old being attacked at school,” Councilman Tommy Newell, who made the motion to pass the cease and desist, said. “I’m not sure the federal government can screen all the refugees coming over to make sure they’re not part of ISIS or other terrorist groups. I don’t trust this government to screen the terrorists out.”
Berkeley is the latest county in the Palmetto State to take on the Refugee Resettlement Project, a federal program for resettling refugees fleeing Middle East conflict and terror. (Pickens County passed a similar resolution in October; Greenville County’s council is considering doing the same, for instance.)
Read the full text of the Berkeley council resolution below:
So far, there aren’t actually any plans to resettle refugees from war-ravaged Syria in Berkeley County—but the county’s move has some Syrian-American advocates thoroughly pissed off nonetheless.
“That Americans, particularly public figures, would be so disengaged from the suffering of the Syrian people, only to become interested to stop their own community from helping alleviate that suffering, is disgusting,” Evan Barrett, deputy director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force (which also advocates for greater U.S. military involvement in Syria), told The Daily Beast.
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes (including the internally displaced) since the start of the civil conflict, which has claimed more than 250,000 lives.
“Syria represents the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II, and the idea that the United States, the immigrant nation, would close its doors to those fleeing a murderous tyrant and virulent terror groups is unthinkable,” Barrett continued. “I would encourage councilman Newell or anyone else from Berkeley County to travel to the Syrian border, to visit with refugees in the camps, and to reevaluate their decision about the danger these people represent.”
“The views of the Berkeley County Council don’t represent the views of South Carolinians, or Republicans even,” Omar Hossino of the Syrian American Council said. “Lindsey Graham has been one of the strongest advocates in the U.S. Senate for Syrian refugees…It’s very worrying that anyone would oppose the legal resettling of Syrian refugees that is happening, but with that being said, this county and this council do not represent the views of most South Carolinians…Syrian refugees must be vetted to the full extent, but for people to say they want to kick these people out because they’re ISIS when they’re actually fleeing ISIS…It’s very odd.”
The Obama administration recently announced an increase on the cap on refugees the U.S. accepts and resettles—this includes 10,000 Syrians over the next year. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has supported the efforts of faith-based groups to bring more refugees to her state.
“There are many reasons to disagree with the program but the simple fact that we can’t properly vet these refugees makes it inexcusable that Gov. Haley would agree to be part of this federal program,” Jennifer Ort, representing the Concerned Voters of Berkeley County, said following the council’s decision. “I can only hope that every other county in South Carolina will follow our council’s lead and put the rights and safety of their constituents first, as ours has done.”
The governor’s office did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on this story.