Readers who follow the news will recognize that we as a society have been of several minds about what to do about refugees in America. To some, political refugees might be terrorists – that is, hidden among several thousand refugees from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries might be individuals who are sham refugees; they are only seeking entry into our country as a means to cause murder and mayhem. To others, the very foundation of our nation was as a place for those fleeing horrors in the Old World to start over again in America, along with their families. In South Carolina, we went through this international immigration with French Huguenots and Scotch-Irish in colonial days; in much of the country, immigration of “others” continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the start, this carried the consequence that most would work out well here and enrich our highly successful blend of cultures, but that there would always be others who would remain “outsiders” and bring unrest. The nation has always not only survived the danger but has thrived.
Here in South Carolina the difference of opinion about Muslim refugees has been stark. Just as individual stories of law abiding citizens gone bad can be seen every night on the 6:00 news, there are always stories on the news of crimes being committed somewhere by recent refugees; they are newsworthy only because they are unusual, but that fact is often lost in the noise. Our legislature includes those who are convinced that the risk of allowing, much less encouraging, refugees is not justified. Senate Bill 997 purports to punish those organizations who sponsor refugees should any of those sponsored commit crimes once here. The real purpose, of course, is to convince sponsoring organizations to go away, and to take their refugees with them. Others, such as the ad hoc organizations “South Carolina Welcomes Refugees” and “Aiken Peace” actively seek opportunities to help refugees to become South Carolinians, just as their own ancestors at one time were helped to become South Carolinians. At this point which side will become predominant is uncertain. S.997 is being held up in committee and does not appear to be among those bills destined to become law before this year’s session ends. But the efforts of those who fear these refugees are certain to continue.
How can everyday citizens like you and me find out the real risks and the real rewards of allowing potential refugees to settle here in South Carolina, and here in the Edgefield County? Rather than focusing on rumors and unusual news stories, those interested can invest a little time and listen to those who have facts to share. Myself, I plan to attend “Refugee Resettlement in SC: Facts, not Fear,” which is a seminar that will be held in Aiken before this edition of The Edgefield Advertiser goes to press; but also to attend another seminar by the “Interfaith Fellowship of Augusta” on “How Do We Treat the Stranger?” That one will be a moderated panel at the Islamic Center of Augusta (465 Old Evans Rd. in Martinez) on Thursday evening, June 2nd, starting at 6:00pm. Please join me there!