Senate State Affairs showed a little good sense yesterday, transforming Senator Brock Greenfield’s ugly anti-refugee power grab. In Senate Bill 124, Senator Greenfield and a flock of fellow cranky Trumpy fearmongers originally sought to empower the Legislature to ban refugees from South Dakota. That plan wasn’t going to fly, So Senator Greenfield offered an amendment:
- SB 124 still repeals the Department of Social Services’ authority to enter into agreements with the federal government to resettle refugees, but as Greenfield noted, South Dakota is a “Wilson/Fish” state, meaning we have non-profit, non-governmental groups handle refugee resettlement. DSS’s authority is thus practically moot; SB 124’s repeal of that authority doesn’t keep refugees out.
- Instead of requiring Legislative approval for all refugee resettlement agreements, the amended SB 124 now requires private agencies working with direct arrival refugees to submit annual reports on the services they provide to refugees, which towns receive refugees, how many refugees come, the demographics (age, country of origin, sex) or refugees arriving, and any proposed changes to numbers of refugees expected. These annual reports are only required through 2020.
That amendment brought some refugee lawyers and advocates around to testify in favor of the amended SB 124. They also explained the rigorous vetting process to which refugees must submit. Attorney Anna Kerner Anderson said that a refugee who acknowledges giving a cup of water to an ISIS fighter occupying her village may be denied admission as a supporter of terrorism. Immigration attorney Taneeza Islam noted that South Dakota is a top-five resettlement state because we need refugees to fill workforce needs. Islam said refugees and immigrants in general make up 3% of our workforce and contribute one billion dollars in purchasing power a year to South Dakota.
Misdod Mustapa said his family came to America from Somalia as political refugees. Mustapa’s family was self-sufficient, off all public assistance, within six months of arriving in Sioux Falls. He paid back his new country by serving four years in the Marines; both of his brothers went to college. “We come over here for the American Dream,” said Mustapa, “and once we do that, once we get the opportunity to do the American Dream, we only help build that to make it better.”
Sister Kathleen Bierne of the Presentation Sisters said she objected to the “tenor” and “restrictive tone” of the original bill. She said the general idea of keeping people out conflicts with the Presentation Sisters’ mission to be more welcoming. She found the amendment sufficient to alleviate her concerns.
Senate State Affairs supported SB 124 as amended unanimously, 8–0. Senator Al Novstrup was excused from this softening of the anti-refugee legislation that he sponsored, since he was busy losing the fight for his property tax increase over in Senate Taxation.