This week’s column follows up on two columns from the May issues of The Edgefield Advertiser.
The first topic is easy to describe: a correction from last week’s article about the June 14th Primary election. I mentioned that every registered voter may vote in that election, regardless of political party affiliation, and that there is no Democratic Primary, just a Republican one; that is true, for Edgefield County at least. But I also said that the two candidates for State Senate, the incumbent Shane Massey and his challenger John Pettigrew, would be available in a town hall style meeting on Saturday, June 4th; that turned out not to be true. Between the deadline for last week’s column and when the paper went to press, that town hall meeting had been cancelled. We are hoping it will be rescheduled before June 14th, and if it is we will ensure that announcement is in the print edition (if time permits) and the online edition of The Edgefield Advertiser available at http://www.edgefieldadvertiser.com . These weekly OpEds are also available in the online version of the newspaper, and your comments are welcome.
The second topic is a bit more complicated, and that is the Refugee Resettlement Program. In a column a couple of weeks ago I advocated for our state to take an increased role in refugee resettlement, in particular for those seeking refuge in our country, as so many of our own ancestors did, from the religious wars raging in the Old World. In order to find out more about how the federal Refugee Resettlement Program works (there is no state or local governmental role in this federal program), my wife Carol and I attended a meeting in Aiken on May 23rd. The presenter was the Refugee Services Coordinator from the Columbia office of Lutheran Services Carolina.
It turns out that Lutheran Services Carolina is one of only two Refugee Resettlement agencies in the state; the other is World Relief, with an office in Spartanburg. Between the two agencies, they anticipate around 500 refugees being placed in our state during the whole of 2016, compared with about half that number in 2015. Here is the thing, though, of perhaps the most interest to those of us in Edgefield County. Each refugee placed (and they are generally families) must either be placed with a family member already residing in our state, or be placed within 50 miles of the office of the sponsoring agency – in Columbia or in Spartanburg. In addition, the agencies only place refugees where there is available public transportation. Since they generally cannot afford an automobile, at least until they are settled and fully employed, the sponsoring organization teaches them how to use public transportation to move to and from work, to and from the grocery store, etc. The goal of Lutheran Services is to have each refugee family fully independent, gainfully employed, and not needing public assistance within six months of their arrival here. The speaker said that they now make that goal 75% of the time, and are working to increase that success rate.
And finally, refugees being resettled in South Carolina are screened more thoroughly than any other people moving here from anywhere. They are much more thoroughly screened than “normal” legal immigrants arriving with visas, or those arriving for temporary stays in the country on “work visas” or “tourist visas.” A benefit of “Welcoming the Stranger” as our own religions enjoin us to do is that these particular strangers want to integrate into our society. They want to become Americans and generally are well aided by the Refugee Resettlement Program to become good neighbors.