Refugee resettlement bill’s legality debated before hearing
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota would suspend refugee resettlements from countries on “any federal travel ban list” under a measure awaiting a legislative hearing that critics argue would be struck down by the courts if it ever becomes law.
The bill is set to have its first hearing Wednesday before the Senate State Affairs Committee. Republican Sen. Neal Tapio’s legislation would also direct the state to refuse “chain migration” from citizens of countries on such a list. That system gives advantages to the relatives of legal immigrants.
Tapio, a congressional candidate, said a potential legal challenge would be worth fighting if the bill becomes law. He said the federal government doesn’t have the right to “make your neighborhood less safe.”
“We should fight for our wives and our daughters and our kids and our grandkids,” Tapio said. “This is about the future of our communities and the citizens that live within them.”
Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said the bill is unconstitutional and that states don’t have veto power over the federal government’s admission and resettlement of refugees.
Skarin said states’ efforts to block Syrian refugees have lost in court.
“What those cases made clear is that states cannot prevent any immigrant from living within or moving within state boundaries, and the federal government has the authority to decide where it places people through refugee resettlement programs,” she said.
The Supreme Court is to decide the legality of the latest version of President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States by residents of six majority-Muslim countries. A second federal appeals court ruled against the ban last week.
The South Dakota bill would also require legislative approval for the state or contracted agencies to help with refugee resettlement or “chain migration” of people from Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Libya, Yemen and North Korea.
Taneeza Islam, an immigration lawyer and executive director of South Dakota Voices for Justice, said the bill’s sponsors don’t understand the “fundamental rights that we have in our U.S. Constitution” and didn’t think through how the proposal would be implemented.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, told the Argus Leader that the Republican executive opposes the bill.
Betty Oldenkamp, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, told the newspaper it would end support services that help refugees assimilate.
The organization, which oversees refugee resettlement in the state, didn’t immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press. The federal Administration for Children and Families, which includes the Office of Refugee Resettlement, didn’t immediately comment.