COLUMBIA — Just hours before Gov. Nikki Haley asked the US State Department not to resettle Syrian refugees in South Carolina, SC Senate District 14 Sen. Harvey Peeler asked the governor to protect the state from terrorism by not allowing refugees from the Middle East and Africa to be settled here.
In a letter that he said was hand-delivered to Haley Monday morning, Peeler cited the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France in urging Haley to cancel an agreement that would allow the settlement of refugees in South Carolina including the Upstate.
South Carolina’s willingness to accept international refugees has got to stop. The people in Senate District 14 did not like it when they first heard that “refugees” from jihadist strongholds in the Middle East and Africa were being “welcomed” to Spartanburg County. With the bombings and shootings in Paris this weekend, we need to be even more vigilant about protecting the State of South Carolina and her citizens. We do not want potential terrorists in our State.
You are on record of supporting this refugee program. For the people in Cherokee, Spartanburg, Union and York counties, I implore you to cancel the agreement you and the Department of Social Services have made with third party groups to provide shelter to potential terrorists. As the Senate Majority Leader, I implore you to protect our State from terrorist activity.
This past Friday, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks involving mass shootings, suicide bombings and the taking of hostages took place in Paris, France, and in Saint-Denis, a suburb of the city. The attacks left 129 people dead and more than 300 wounded. The terrorists’ targets included a sports stadium where a soccer game was under way and a theater where a concert was taking place as well as several restaurants and cafes around the city.
Survivors of the attack at the theater said they heard the terrorists shout “Allahu akbar” just before they opened fire. The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an Islamic terrorist group based in Syria and Iraq, has since claimed responsibility for the attack. The group has also claimed responsibility for Nov. 12 suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 43 people while its Sinai branch has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 31 downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 which killed 224 people.
The terrorist attack in Paris comes amid the ongoing influx of refugees from the predominantly Islamic Middle East and areas of Africa that are also predominantly Islamic. The influx of refugees has raised concerns in Europe and elsewhere, that groups like ISIL will have their members pose as refugees in order infiltrate them into France and other countries they are seeking to attack.
On Monday, Haley’s office announced that she’d sent the following letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking that no Syrian refugees be resettled in South Carolina.
In the aftermath of Friday’s terrorist attack on Paris, which took the lives of at least 129 innocent people and injured 352 more, reports surfaced that at least one of the attackers entered France by claiming to be a refugee hoping to escape the conflict in Syria.
As governor of a state that plays a small role in administering part of the federal refugee resettlement program, I have concerns with the vetting process of refugees from conflict-zones, specifically Syria.
After reviewing recent public statements and personally speaking today with intelligence officials, it is my understanding that while our national security agencies are working tirelessly to vet potential refugees, there remain gaps in available intelligence for those fleeing Syria. This lack of historical and verifiable intelligence with many Syrian refugees makes it difficult, if not impossible, to thoroughly vet individuals seeking to enter the United States as a refugee.
Therefore, until I can be assured that all potential refugees from Syria have no ties to terrorist organizations, I am requesting that the State Department not resettle any Syrian refugees in South Carolina.
As Governor, it is my first and primary duty to ensure the safety of the citizens of South Carolina. We are a state that has proudly welcomed refugees from around the world as part of the United States’ Refugee Resettlement Program. Refugees are forced to flee their home countries for the most awful reasons, such as religious persecution, and under the most hectic circumstances, such as in the midst of civil war. While I agree that the United States should try to assist individuals in such dire situations, it is precisely because of the situation in Syria that makes their admission into the United States a potential threat to our national security.
For that reason, I ask that you honor my request and not resettle any Syrian refugees in South Carolina.
Peeler welcomed Haley’s decision, but said it did not go far enough.
“I appreciate her actions, I stand by my letter and by my request. I would feel more comfortable if we stopped the program all together,” Peeler said Tuesday morning. “South Carolina is known for being a compassionate state, but we are also known for being a common sense state and common sense would tell you that the easiest way for a potential terrorist to enter our land would be disguised as a refugee.”
Concerns about the possibility of terrorists passing themselves off as refugees have also been expressed in the Upstate of South Carolina. In September, Spartanburg County residents voiced their concerns that the resettlement of refugees from the Middle East during a meeting of Spartanburg County Council. They said they didn’t know much about the refugees being brought in to the community and were worried about the government’s ability to effectively prevent terrorists pretending to be refugees from getting in.
The possibility of ISIL, Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups infiltrating terrorists into the Upstate under the guise of being refugees has grown in light of the terrorist attack in Paris. In addition to Peeler’s letter, three other Upstate legislators — State Sen. Lee Bright and State Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns — also called on Haley to halt the resettlement program.
Bright, Chumley, and Burns sent Haley the following letter:
“In just the last few weeks we have learned even more about how little vetting and investigation is being done to insure that the individuals being resettled are not part of a criminal element or, even more concerning, that there may be radical Islamic terrorists smuggled in with legitimate refugees.
“The international Islamic terrorist organization the Islamic State has openly bragged that they have an ongoing operation to insert trained terrorists into Western democracies by mixing them with the horde of refugees coming out of the war-torn Middle East and North Africa.
“We hope you will agree that we can no longer continue to ignore the threat to our country posed by these radicals. While we can never expect President Barack Obama to alter his leftist ideological strategy, the state of South Carolina must do everything in our power to halt this potential invasion. In the wake of the attack on Paris in the last few days, which put the capital of a major Western power into chaos and resulted in 129 deaths and more than 300 wounded, it is indisputable that the Islamic State, and other Islamic radicals, are capable of pulling off well-planned, coordinated attacks with devastating results.
“Although you may not consider South Carolina to be a strategic target in the eyes of international terrorists, we would remind you that we are home to a significant international, particularly European, industrial base and business community. More importantly, it would be an awful burden to bear if an attack did happen on American soil and one of the perpetrators tragically gained entry to the United States through our resettlement program.
“We owe it to our citizens to be extra vigilant and not take unnecessary risks. Therefore, until such time as the United States government, particularly the intelligence community, attains the ability to properly vet these refugees, we request that you suspend South Carolina’s participation in this program.”
Bright also welcomed Haley’s request to Kerry, but also said it didn’t go far enough, and said efforts in Congress to defund the program should continue and that South Carolina should do all it can to prevent the resettlement of the refugees.
“It was a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough,” Bright said Tuesday morning. “Jeff Duncan and several members of Congress have been trying to defund the program for a year, and we in South Carolina should do all we can to stop allowing the refugees to come in.”
Bright and Rep. Chumley represent Greenville and Spartanburg counties while Burns represents northern Greenville County.