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Aiken Republicans ask county council for support of resolution against refugee resettlement

Posted: November 19, 2015 - 8:15am

AIKEN — Aiken County Councilman Andrew Siders asked for a show of hands from the crowd. He wanted to know how many people at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday attended because of concerns about Syrian refugees being resettled in South Carolina and Aiken County.

Most of the audience, which nearly filled the room to capacity, raised their hands.

“Wow,” said Siders, adding that he had received a number of phone calls from residents on the issue in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

K.T. Ruthven, the chairman of the Aiken County Republican Party, told the council members that his organization’s executive committee had drafted a resolution against any refugee resettlement in South Carolina and asked for their support.

“The Aiken County Republican Party would like to request you first reject any resettlement camps as it would be a matter of national security with the location of the Savannah River Site,” Ruthven said. “We would also like you to reject any funds, either state or federal funds, given to you for resettlement camps.”

Gov. Nikki Haley, who has supported refugee resettlement in South Carolina in the past, on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking that no Syrian refugees be sent to the state, citing concerns she had with vetting the refugees. Haley wrote that after speaking with intelligence sources of her own, “there remain gaps in available intelligence for those fleeing Syria.”

Haley was one of a number of Republican governors across the country to make the same request this week.

Ruthven said that although Haley’s letter was welcomed, he felt the council should still respond.

According to information on the U.S. State Department Web site, the country will admit 85,000 refugees from around the world in 2016. Of those, 34,000 will come from the Near East and South Asia, and at least 10,000 will be from Syria, the site said.

Some residents, however, didn’t feel Haley’s letter to Kerry was sufficient.

A resident said the refugee resettlement program was akin to the “Trojan horse” of Greek legend.

Council Chairman Ronnie Young said a resolution would be prepared for a council vote at its next meeting Dec. 8, adding that he would send a letter that a resident had requested to Haley, asking her to expand the language in her letter to include all Middle Eastern refugees.

A comment from Councilman Phil Napier drew a loud round of applause and appeared to sum up the audience’s feelings.

“I think that we are in full agreement that we need to take a stand on this,” Napier said. “It is sad for the (Syrian) women and children, but most of the people trying to get in are not women and children. … One got into Paris legally, and see what happened. I think we have to be very careful. I think we can feel sorry for those people, but we have to look out for our families and U.S. citizens first.”

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