Lawmakers move to fine charities that help refugees

Lawmakers move to fine charities that help refugees


Unable to block the federal government from sending refugees to Arizona, six Republican lawmakers want to penalize the charities that help them resettle here.

Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, who is leading the effort, told Capitol Media Services she wants to “have a discussion” about how refugees wind up in Arizona and what costs are incurred by the state. It specifically requires the Arizona Department of Economic Security to suspend its participation in the federally funded refugee resettlement program.

Judy Burges (file photo)
Judy Burges (file photo)

But as other states that have taken similar steps have found, approval of SB1468 would not stop the refugees. All it would mean is the federal government would continue sending people to the state, only without cooperation and coordination with Arizona officials.

And there is nothing that stops refugees from moving to Arizona once they’re in the country legally.

The potentially more far-reaching part of the legislation would impose a fine on charities of $1,000 a day for each refugee it helps place in the state. And if a refugee is arrested, the charity would be financially liable for the cost of arrest, prosecution and incarceration of that person.

Burges conceded that she is using that approach because, realistically, it’s the only option available to her to stem the flow of refugees.

“When you put a stay on the program, how do you keep them from continuing doing it?” she said.

The measure concerns Ron Johnson who lobbies for Catholic Charities, one of the groups involved in helping refugees resettle in the state.

“Obviously we’re all concerned with proper vetting and national security,” he said. “But that’s not something we do with Catholic Charities. Once they’re here, we help them: find a job, find a place to live, learn the language, all kind of good things that help them be a part of society so they’re not dependent on the government.”

More to the point, he said Burges and other sponsors of SB1468 are focusing on the wrong end of the problem.

“To punish the Good Samaritans that are trying to help them is a bit misplaced,” Johnson said. “These people are already here.”

Burges was unsympathetic.

“I’ve talked to Ron Johnson myself,” she said. “And I know that they get millions of dollars to administer these programs.”

“She’s probably talking nationally,” Johnson responded, noting there are more than 80,000 refugees being resettled this year.

“I won’t deny that helps keep these program running,” he continued. But Johnson said it would be wrong to say that Catholic Charities is somehow making money on the programs.

“There’s also local donations to help make ends meet,” he said.

Burges said she wasn’t saying that groups that work with refugees are in it for the money.

“As a charitable organization, they feel it’s their responsibility,” she said. But she added that the state needs to have some say over who comes here.

“They’re being forced on us,” Burges said.

The Department of Economic Security, which operates the state Refugee Resettlement Program that Burges’ legislation would shut down, reports that it settled 4,833 people in the state in the last federal fiscal year. That covers Oct. 1, 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016.

By comparison, there were 4,138 the prior year and 3,882 the year before that.

The largest share of last year’s refugees (more than 1,100) came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But there also were 715 from Syria, 610 from Somalia and 462 from Iraq, all countries that are listed on the president’s executive order.

Other sponsors of the legislation include Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Reps. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, Vince Leach, R-Tucson, Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, and Don Shooter, R-Yuma.

Even if SB1468 were adopted, it appears it would not make any difference in how many refugees end up in Arizona.

That, however, could change.

Two Republican U.S. senators from Texas last month introduced legislation designed to let governors block the federal government from resettling refugees in their states.

The State Refugee Security Act As, which was crafted by Ted Cruz and Ted Poe, would require the federal government to notify a state at least 21 days before a refugee is resettled there. A governor, at his or her “sole discretion” could veto the move absent “adequate assurance that the alien does not present a security risk to the state.”

Burges and her GOP colleagues are not alone in their call on Washington to halt the flow of refugees.

In 2015, Gov. Doug Ducey asked the federal government to immediately halt placement of new refugees in Arizona. That came in the wake of reports that at least one of the people involved in a suicide bombing in Paris had slipped into Europe as a refugee.

The governor cited a provision of federal law that he said entitles him to “immediate consultation by federal authorities” of plans to resettle any refugees in the state. He also demanded the federal government “take into account the concerns and recommendations of the state of Arizona as they are required to under federal law in our efforts to keep our homeland safe.”

Ducey’s request, however, was not limited to Syrian refugees, saying at the time it is his right to demand there be no new refugees here.

What Ducey got, however, was being included in a conference call with other governors and federal officials detailing their screening efforts. And none of that has stopped the flow of refugees.