South Carolina was one of the first states to protest President Obama's plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States for permanent resettlement, but those refugees have now started to arrive despite the absence of an official welcome mat.
The uprising grew so intense this past summer that Secretary of State John Kerry dispatched his top refugee official, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard, to Spartanburg to quell the backlash against Muslim migrants.
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Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who initially supported the resettlements in her state, changed her mind after the attack on Paris that killed 130 people in November. Those attacks were carried out by eight Islamic terrorists, including one who entered Europe as a "refugee." Haley joined more than two dozen other governors who told the Obama administration they didn't want any Syrian refugees.
But none of that protest has stopped Obama's plans from going forward. The Syrians continue to arrive not only in South Carolina but nationwide, Richard said.
A pair of Syrians were secretly planted last week in Midlands, near the state capital of Columbia, without even the governor's office being notified. And more Syrians are on their way to the Palmetto State, the South Carolina Department of Social Services confirmed to WND.
The Syrians are being resettled in South Carolina by Lutheran Services Carolinas, a private agency affiliated with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine contractors who receive hundreds of millions in federal taxpayer money to resettle foreign refugees in the U.S.
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Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., did not take kindly to the furtive action by the federal government, which works with the United Nations to distribute up to 85,000 foreign refugees annually into more than 180 U.S. cities and towns.
Mulvaney got into a heated exchange last week in a committee hearing with Richard over the unapproved distribution of Syrian refugees into South Carolina.
Mulvaney said his office found out about the placement of the first two Syrians by reading it in the local media.
This despite the fact that Mulvaney said he and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., had met previously with State Department officials to discuss security concerns about the refugees.
"I found out yesterday in the media that your group has placed some refugees this month in South Carolina, and I'd like to ask you about that," he told Richard. "...But our governor had reached out to you and asked you not to do this. And when we had met previously, you said one of the things your organization considers when looking at placing folks is whether or not they're going to areas where you feel like they would be welcomed to the point where they would be easier to assimilate. And I suggest to you that maybe the governor's letter to you might send a message that now is not the right time to send Syrian refugees to South Carolina, so why did you do it anyway? And why didn't you tell the governor you were gonna do it?"
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Richard said she wasn't aware that any Syrians had been sent to South Carolina.
"How is that possible?" Mulvaney asked.
"I don't track all of the (thousands of) refugees coming to the United States. … Our program is continuing, and it's continuing across the United States. And it's all legal," Richard told Mulvaney.
Watch full exchange between Rep. Mick Mulvaney and Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population refugees and migration:
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Mulvaney said he agreed it was "legal" for the feds to send the refugees but that's not what he was talking about. He wanted to know about the "welcoming" aspect of sending refugees into cities where they could possibly be unwelcome.
The refugees are sent to 180 cities and towns in 49 states under the authority of the Refugee Act of 1980, apparently with little to no oversight required by Congress or even acquiescence from the states, according to Richard's testimony.
But some of the South Carolina activists thought Mulvaney's response to Richard was weak. They believe he bowed to the contested theory that Obama can continue to send refugees to states even without their permission.
"Congressman Mulvaney calls the migrants 'citizens' and forgets that our own state, of which he was a member only 5 years ago, did pass into law an opt-out method that permits counties to decline the federal pass-through funding for resettlement," said Christina Jeffrey, a Spartanburg resident, political science professor and activist against Syrian refugees.
Jeffrey said Mulvaney should have contested Richard's claim that the resettlements were legal:
"Mulvaney has undermined our efforts to encourage use of this option in a number of ways including his failure to refute, or rather his full-throated support for Richard's insistence that there is nothing the state can do to resist the forced welcoming of potentially dangerous refugees (due to a whole host of social and health issues besides the national security ones), is very disappointing. Furthermore, his complete surrender of any role for Congress other than personal appeals to the sovereign administration, is pathetic and sad."
Before the Paris attack, Haley had supported the refugee program even though several counties in her state were protesting and saying they didn't want the refugees, citing security and financial reasons.
But in South Carolina, just as in many of the other states where governors have protested, it is now clear that the Syrians will continue to arrive without the permission of the governor or the state's congressional delegations.
All eyes had been on Spartanburg since March, when the evangelical World Relief Corp. said it planned to resettle 60 refugees this year, some of them from Syria. But it turned out to be Columbia, and the Lutherans who made the first strike in what activists are describing as an unwelcomed invasion of Middle Eastern Muslims.
More than 97 percent of the nearly 2,300 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war have been Muslim, and the vast majority of those are Sunni Muslims, the same sect from which come followers of al-Qaida, ISIS, al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations. Almost all of the 85,000 refugees who will be resettled in the U.S. this year will be hand-selected by the United Nations refugee agency.
Haley takes hard line against Gitmo prisoners
In South Carolina, six counties – Anderson, Berkeley, Lawrence, Greenville and Pickens – have already passed resolutions saying refugees are not welcome. Another county, York, just passed a resolution this week that pauses the program.
Hilton Head Island attorney Lauren Martel said Haley should be as concerned about U.N.-selected refugees from jihadist hot zones as she is about Guantanamo Bay terrorists coming into her state. Haley gave an impassioned rebuff to the federal government's announcement that it was considering a brig off the coast of Charleston for Gitmo prisoners.
"We are absolutely drawing a line that we are not going to allow any terrorists to come into South Carolina," Haley said last month about the possibility of Gitmo transfers. "We are not going to allow that kind of threat. We're not going to allow that kind of character to come in."
The Gitmo terrorists would be locked up, many critics reminded Haley. Whereas, if one terrorist slips through the government's refugee vetting process, he gets to walk the streets of Columbia.
"Basically we're expecting her to have that same protective argument and to fight just as zealously against this threat, which even she acknowledges" Martel said. "And due to the lack of integrity in this refugee program, she is not able to honor the obligation of her oath. We sent her two cease-and-desist letters requesting she investigate this program, and to date she has not meaningfully responded to those letters."
The Department of Social Services has been notified by Lutheran Services Carolinas that another family from Syria has been approved for resettlement in the State, DSS spokeswoman Karen Wingo told The Greenville News. "However, the Department does not have any additional information at this time regarding their estimated date of arrival or planned location of placement."
The federal government did not communicate with Haley’s office that it was resettling the Syrians in South Carolina, according to the governor’s office. She learned of the resettlements through DSS and the Lutheran resettlement agency.
'No background information' on Syrian refugees
Haley recently told WIS-TV in Columbia that FBI Director James Comey told her he had no background information on Syrian refugees. But information has been available from the FBI since Feb. 11, when Michael Steinback, deputy director for counter-terrorism at the bureau, testified before Congress and said it was virtually impossible to vet the Syrian refugees because they are coming from a "failed state" without any reliable law-enforcement records.
Comey repeated the warning to the House Homeland Security Committee on Oct. 1.
"I personally called the FBI director when we were deciding on the Syrian refugees and whether they should come over," Haley said. “He specifically said, ‘We have no background on these refugees.' And that's when I said, if we have no background, we can’t take the chance of whether it is OK to have them come into the country."
Before she had that conversation, she ignored Comey's and Steinbach's warnings to Congress and said she "trusted" the federal government's vetting process as described by the State Department, which says refugees are the "most highly scrutinized" of all immigrants coming to the U.S.
Haley now says the United States needs to get better intelligence on the ground overseas, monitor social media and watch for large deposits into bank accounts.
“We need a lot of communication from the feds down to the locals so we’re all hearing the same information and know what to be watching out for,” she said.
The governor’s office said it notified law-enforcement officials about the Syrians’ arrival.
But law enforcement are not allowed to monitor or track the movement of foreign refugees once they arrive in the United States. As WND reported, a refugee went missing last month from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was never accounted for. Homeland Security officials said they have the right to move and travel like any U.S. citizen.
The Syrians, like all refugees, are immediately signed up for a smorgasbord of social welfare benefits that include cash stipends for up to eight months, Medicaid, subsidized housing, job preparation training, citizenship preparation, vocational and English language training, for up to five years.
"Federal law prevents the state or county from denying placement of refugees in South Carolina,” Wingo said. “Furthermore, the Department of Social Services is legally prohibited from discriminating in the provision of benefits on the basis of national origin. Therefore, any Syrian refugees resettled in South Carolina, presently or in the future, will be able to avail themselves of all services provided by the Department of Social Services for which they qualify."