COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster has requested the federal government no longer resettle refugees in South Carolina from the six countries targeted by President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
The request comes in an annual plan each state submits to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services laying out how the refugee programs are administered in the state.
Citing concerns with the vetting process for refugees from areas the Trump administration has identified as terrorism hotbeds, the fiscal year 2018 request from South Carolina's Department of Social Services asks the federal government to block refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from being directed to the Palmetto State.
The last time refugees from any of those six countries were resettled in South Carolina was January 2017, when a family from Iran arrived in the state. No refugees from any country have been resettled in South Carolina since May, when 10 refugees arrived in the state from Afghanistan, Burma and Russia.
McMaster first publicized the request in a speech Monday night in Anderson at U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan's annual Faith & Freedom BBQ fundraiser. He explained that governors cannot stop the State Department from resettling refugees but said "we can voice our opinion on what we would like to do and not like to do."
"We've got nothing against refugees," McMaster said. "They're facing all sorts of turmoil and problems."
But pointing to the ongoing threat of "terrorists in the world," the governor went on to tell the crowd he recently filed paperwork saying, "We want no refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen, just like President Trump said, until those procedures can be made safe, sound and secure."
South Carolina has pushed back on federal refugee resettlement efforts before. In November 2015, then-Gov. Nikki Haley was among 31 governors who voiced opposition to accepting Syrian refugees without thorough vetting.
Nonetheless, resettlement of Syrian refugees in South Carolina continued despite Haley's protests.
In previous years, the state’s request has been approved with minimal changes, but the process still takes several months.
Last year’s plan, submitted in late August to Homeland Security, was approved in December. The only language rejected from that plan was about not resettling Syrian refugees. But that was under the Obama administration, which had a markedly more open approach to refugee resettlement than Trump's administration.
Between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, statistics from the state Department of Social Services show 1,278 refugees were resettled in South Carolina. Primary refugee populations in South Carolina that have recently been resettled have typically come from Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma.
The current iteration of Trump's travel ban continues to wind its way through the courts, but it received new life in July when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed tighter restrictions on refugees to go into effect.
The Trump administration set a cap of 50,000 maximum refugees to be resettled in the U.S. this fiscal year, a limit that was reached in mid-July. The U.S. admitted just under 85,000 refugees last fiscal year, and former President Barack Obama was aiming to resettle 110,000 refugees this fiscal year until Trump was elected.
Initially, the purpose of Trump's executive order was to halt all refugee resettlement, plus any travel at all from the six countries he cited as at particular risk of presenting terrorism threats.
Under the Supreme Court's compromise, any refugees must have ties to the U.S. through family, work or school to be resettled for the rest of this fiscal year.
Two agencies are contracted with the government to resettle refugees in South Carolina: World Relief in Spartanburg and Lutheran Services.