Welcome the Stranger – With Education

Those Edgefield Advertiser readers who have become familiar with these columns (and I am truly thankful for each one of you!) have recognized that there are several themes I often return to. The multi- cultural requirement that many of us have learned in Church, Synagogue, or Mosque to “Welcome the Stranger” is one of those, and today’s politics call for a revisit.

The most recent time I addressed this was following an Edgefield County Council meeting back in January, when a citizen rose to address possible refugee resettlement. Will our County Council, as other County Councils have done, consider passing a Resolution against refugee resettlement here in Edgefield County? Fortunately, the Council did not do so.

Notwithstanding the fact that accepting refugees into our country is a federal responsibility, now our state government has weighed in. Senate Bill 997 has passed that legislative body and is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. What would it do, if enacted? It would require any organization who sponsored a refugee family resettled in our state to be financially responsible for any violence members of that family might be a part of, while they were still in the Refugee Resettlement Program. Given the federal role in resettlement, it is not at all clear whether that financial burden would be enforceable in the courts in the unlikely event it came up, but I am sure that isn’t the real point. The real point is to send a clear message to people seeking refuge in our state and to those helping them: please go someplace else. You may be seeking resettlement in the greatest nation on earth, one founded by people doing just what you are doing – seeking refuge and a new beginning – but we don’t want you in South Carolina, not in my back yard (NIMBY).

Many who read this column will recall in the Gospel according to St. Matthew that we are to be judged by a different standard: “I was a Stranger, and you took me in.” It turns out there is an upcoming opportunity here in the Augusta area to provide genuine help for refugees. If you visit the web site of the Interfaith Fellowship of Augusta, www.interfaith-augusta.org , one of the faces you’ll see is that of a member of the Episcopal Order of Saint Helena (OSH) in North Augusta. Sr. Ellen Francis (yes, spelled that way) sent me a flyer about a fundraising dinner sponsored by the Interfaith Fellowship, to provide education support for Syrian refugee children. The dinner will be at the Belair Conference Center in Augusta, on Saturday evening, April 23rd, starting at 7:00pm. The cost is $20 per person at the door, the flyer tells me. I like Middle Eastern food, and I’ll bet this will be the genuine article and alone well worth the cost.

Which do you think is the way we are called on to “Welcome the Stranger”? To ask our County Council to say they are not welcome here? To have our state government say to resettlement agencies, “NIMBY”? Or to help out children who, as refugees, have fallen behind in their opportunity to learn about the world, a world that at long last has begun to care about them?

Robert Scott