After recording a 372-vote June 14 primary victory, South Carolina Sen. Kevin Bryant told PJM he is ready to restart a campaign to impose criminal sanctions on refugee-sheltering groups whose guests are found guilty of criminal activity, and register all the refugees entering his state.
At the same time, a Southern Baptist pastor, Alan Cross, told PJM a cross-denominational coalition that came together to defeat Bryant’s legislation the first time won’t be caught napping.
Meanwhile in Louisiana, Rep. Valarie Hodges has also vowed to continue her drive to penalize so-called “sanctuary cities” where local authorities refuse to enforce federal immigration law.
Hodges’ HB 1148 and Bryant’s SB 997 seemed like odds-on favorites, earlier this year, to win easy approval in their state legislatures. But the mood of their states, and the nation, shifted.
Bryant, a pharmacist who favors bow ties, said his legislation was inspired in late January by fears the Obama administration was about to open the gates to a tidal wave of Syrian refugees into South Carolina.
Even though the Orlando gunman was a native-born American, Bryant said the ISIS-inspired massacre at the LGBT Pulse nightclub makes the need for his legislation even more urgent.
“ISIS has promised to infiltrate the refugees from Syria,” he told PJM, “and I think we can take them at their word on that.”
He said that he wanted to make South Carolina the most “unwelcoming state” in the U.S. for the Syrians.
Congressman Jeff Duncan flew home to the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia in January to voice his support for SB 997.
“Radical Islamic terrorists have said they will try to exploit both the migrant crisis into Europe and the refugee situation to enter into this country,” Rep. Duncan (R-S.C.) said in Columbia. “We do not have a credible vetting process capable of bringing refugees into the United States in a way that keeps America safe.”
However, it was in essence a bipartisan coalition of conservative Southern Baptist pastors and representatives of more progressive Christian denominations, joined with groups like the ACLU and South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice, which rose up against the legislation and blocked it in June.
Even though SB 997 passed the South Carolina Senate 39-6, it failed to win enough support to even come up for a vote in the House.
Proponents of the legislation complained the bill was never given a fair hearing in the House.
But, Alan Cross said, “A movement began to oppose this bill from faith-based groups and churches across the state” during the Senate debate.
“We are still seeing animosity and fear. But the more people have a chance to think about it, they do consider the actual refugees who are victims of repression and violence, those are the people we should help,” Cross said.
Cross does not want more refugees to be allowed into South Carolina. “That’s all above my pay grade,” he said. “But the refugees who are here, I want to treat them well. And I think people understand that.”
In Louisiana, it was a more traditional bipartisan effort that defeated HB 1148. It would have barred New Orleans and other cities Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry had branded as being “sanctuary cities” from receiving even a dime of state money for public building projects.
Rep. Hodges said the legislation was meant to counter New Orleans’ new policing policy that directed local police not to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
“We’re setting a pretty low bar here. All we are saying is just follow federal law,” Hodges told the Times-Picayune. “The city of New Orleans, the cities of Louisiana, need to be kept safe.”
One Republican – Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who is from one of the sanctuary cities, New Orleans – literally called bulls**t on his GOP colleagues, who he sensed were trying to ram federal oversight down Louisiana’s throat.
“Don’t come down here with some overarching bulls**t Republican philosophy from Washington, D.C. – and I’m a Republican, and I’ve deported more people per capital than any other county in this country – and tell me how to do my business when last year I had the lowest crime rate in this parish since 1974,” Normand said.
The legislation didn’t make it through the Senate after being approved by the House.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) only halfheartedly supported the legislation. The best Hodges could get out of his office was a statement that the governor liked the “concept of the bill” but was troubled by some of the details in the measure.
However, Hodges has more than a friend in Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
“I am extremely disappointed that the governor and politicians who are aligned with him chose to confer criminal illegals more rights than their constituents, the citizens of Louisiana, enjoy,” Landry said in a statement following the Senate failure of HB 1148.
“Today’s action,” Landry said, “shows that the governor and his D.C.-style politics jeopardize the safety of our citizens”
Hodges told KSLA-TV that she will try again in 2017.
“What we were talking about is the rule of law and making our cities safer for American citizens, not people who are here illegally,” she said. “Our primary concern should be our citizens of the United States.”