Refugee advocates are bucking frantically against a resolution introduced in the South Dakota legislature that would give a vote of “no confidence” to the United Nations-backed refugee resettlement program and demand “extreme vetting” of refugees being placed in the state.
Lutheran Social Services South Dakota has delivered more than 5,500 refugees directly from the Third World to Sioux Falls, Huron and other cities since 2002, according to U.S. State Department data. Nearly 1,000 have come from Somalia, 469 from Eritrea, 336 from Sudan, 300 from Iraq, 1,089 from Burma, 23 from Afghanistan and four from Syria.
The resolution’s chief sponsor, state Sen. Neal Tapio, a Republican, says 98 percent of girls in Somalia undergo forced female genital mutilation and honor killing of one’s own daughters is accepted. In Afghanistan, “dancing chai boys” are routinely abused by adult males.
“We don’t want this in our country,” Tapio told WND. He said he’s received many derogatory emails accusing him of being an “Islamophobe” and other vile names.
The resolution up for debate in the Senate’s state affairs committee Wednesday states:
“WHEREAS the State of South Dakota has ceded the state’s authority and has no direct influence on the implementation or administration of the refugee resettlement program; and WHERAS the United Nations, the United States Department of State, and an unelected nonprofit organization is solely responsible for implementing the refugee resettlement program and for assessing the impact the program has on South Dakota towns and communities, leaving citizens of South Dakota without a proper avenue to petition the government regarding the resettlement program.”
Pro-refugee groups are busing people from Lutheran Social Services in Sioux Falls up to the state Capitol in Pierre to testify against the resolution Wednesday, said Tapio.
“I think the GOP leadership in our state may want to kill it,” Tapio said.
Almost all refugees sent to the U.S. are hand-selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which does the initial vetting, then hands them over to U.S. immigration officers to conduct further vetting.
FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in October 2015 that many Syrian refugees cannot be vetted because the country has no law-enforcement databases that U.S. screeners can vet against.
Refugee resettlements have turned Sioux Falls into a multicultural mecca of the Midwest, but some of the refugees have migrated to the even smaller city of Aberdeen to work in the meatpacking industry.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen, a big supporter of refugee labor, was pushing for a new LSS office in Aberdeen last year so that refugees could be resettled directly in his city. That plan never materialized and is now all but dead given President Donald Trump’s vision of a scaled-down resettlement program.
Watch video trailer for the book former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has called the “must read of 2017.” It documents the “Stealth Invasion” of the U.S. and other Western democracies.
While most refugees coming from the Third World have zero job skills and are often illiterate even in their own language, Levsen told the Aberdeen Free Press they are “good for the work force and community.”
“We need workers, and we certainly would be glad to have more friends and neighbors and more children in our schools and more cultures that we can learn from,” Levsen said.
More than 70 percent of refugees also receive food stamps after one year in the country, according to government reports, and more than 60 percent receive Medicaid.
WND reported in January on a case involving Somali refugee Liban Mohamed, 39, who had been in the U.S. only about a week and in Aberdeen for one day when he wandered up on a nursing home and tried to sexually assault a 31-year-old mentally disabled woman.
Mohamed was reaching up between the defenseless woman’s legs when he was caught by a caregiver, who called police and had him arrested.
Mohamed had arrived in Aberdeen to start work in the Demkota Ranch beef processing plant.
The local newspaper in Aberdeen, the American News, ignored Mohamed’s arrest, trial and conviction until WND reported on the case and noted the lack of local news coverage. When the newspaper did run a story, it was buried on Page 3 and neglected to point out that Mohamed was a refugee.
Changing the dialogue
Tapio said he hopes to change the dialogue from one based solely on the humanitarian facet of refugee resettlement, which he believes is often a false narrative, to one that also explores the darker side of refugee resettlement that nobody likes to talk about.
“We’ve got to slowly teach the public exactly what they’re dealing with,” he said. “And this is my attempt to start framing the dialogue so I talk about America as the beacon of hope around the world and an open and free society where we’re allowed to think and act, to speak without any threats of violence against us, and then I go into cultural practices, female genital mutilation, honor violence and dancing chai boys, and the laws of apostasy and of blasphemy.”
“My dad was a Lutheran pastor,” Tapio added, but today’s Lutheran leaders seem to be cut from a different cloth.
“Martin Luther had a death threat on his head for what he believed. We’ve left that in our past,” he said. “I’m turning the tables on them, instead of them labeling us I’m labeling them as being on the side of intolerance.”
Tapio said the laws of apostasy and blasphemy, female genital mutilation, dancing Chai boys and honor violence against women were not something he thought should be introduced into U.S. culture.
“If that’s part of your organization, we don’t want that in our country,” he said. “I’m getting emails saying that I’m a hater and an Islamophobe; I don’t care. Other people who are in politics, it’s not their passion. It’s a subject they’d just as soon would go away, but to me we have to defend Donald Trump and what he is trying to do or at the end of the day we lose. This is an ideological war and we lose.”
A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday on the resolution in the Committee on State Affairs. Nine lawmakers sit on the committee – seven Republicans and two Democrats – “so it shouldn’t be a problem passing it,” Tapio said. I need five votes to move this out of committee and three of them on the committee are co-sponsors. We’ll see how this goes but politics is a weird business.
“We have four right now, we need five. There’s pressure from somebody, maybe the governor’s office that they want this killed.”
“They are going to try to be neutral. How can you be neutral on a story like this?”
Kelsey Pritchard, a spokeswoman for South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, was contacted by WND and asked if he would support the resolution.
“The governor does not have authority over Senate resolutions. Resolutions do not have the force of law,” Pritchard told WND.
When asked if the governor, a Republican, would support the continued resettlement of refugees in South Dakota under the program’s current vetting process, she did not respond.
Tapio said he is aware resolutions don’t have the force of law but he believes the issue of vetting needs to be opened up to public debate and hoped his resolution would ignite that debate.
WND also contacted Ryan Wrasse, press secretary for U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Katie Douglas, press spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D, to ask for the senators’ opinions on whether better vetting of refugees is needed or if they are satisfied with the current system. Neither immediately returned WND’s calls and emails Tuesday.
“All this whining and carrying on by Lutheran Social Services is nonsense when you figure all their top staff are making over $100,000 a year,” said Ann Corcoran, editor of the Refugee Resettlement Watch blog. “Sure, they don’t want this program to be cut back because it would mean rolling back their gravy train.”
According to the IRS Form 990 for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the group received 95 percent of its revenue in 2014 from federal taxpayer-supported grants and fees.
Meanwhile in Aberdeen, county prosecutor Christopher White told WND that Liban Mohamed spoke no English and required two interpreters at his trial on Dec. 20. The case of Mohamed, who is still awaiting sentencing, also received zero coverage from TV stations in South Dakota and neighboring Minnesota.