A Nebraska lawmaker says refugee resettlement groups should be held financially liable for crimes committed by people they help to bring here from “high-risk” countries.
A measure state Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion introduced Thursday in the Legislature lists 34 nations in that category, but one stands out, he says.
“It’s aimed at Syria.”
Conservative leaders across the U.S. raised security concerns about Syrian refugees following deadly terror attacks in Paris in November that were attributed to Islamic State extremists. Gov. Pete Ricketts joined Republican governors across the country who called for halting resettlement of Syrians here.
Even before the attacks, FBI Director James Comey told Congress he saw a risk with Syrian refugees because background checks relied on information that might be incomplete, largely due to a lack of cooperation by the Syrian government.
"That's a problem," Kintner said Thursday. "That's a real problem. ... There's a very good chance that Islamic jihadists are bringing in a few bad guys."
His bill (LB966) would require resettlement agencies in Nebraska — there are three — to prove they can afford to pay up to $25 million if they resettle refugees from the named countries. And the state Department of Insurance could fine agencies, which can't prove that financial capacity up to $1,000 per day for each refugee they've resettled in the previous five years.
"I don't know how we would afford an insurance policy like that, if it was even available," said Ann Marie Kudlacz, executive director at Omaha's Refugee Empowerment Center.
She called the proposal unreasonable: "How can we guarantee anybody in life isn't going to do anything wrong?"
Omaha Sen. Burke Harr said the bill wouldn't prevent criminal activity or terrorist attacks by refugees.
"It just pays if something does happen," he said.
High-risk countries, according to the bill, include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen and "The Palestinian Territories."
The list is based on one from a bill Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced last year that would have suspended the issuance of visas to refugees from those countries pending strict background checks. The Senate rejected the measure.
A committee will schedule a public hearing on the bill in the coming months.
Nebraska has received resettled refugees from at least eight countries on the list over the past five years, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Resettlement agencies have yet to formally resettle any Syrian refugees here since that country became engulfed in civil war in 2011. But Syrians have arrived by other means, including work or school-related visas.
Ricketts met with resettlement groups soon after the Paris attacks to learn more about the process. His office has yet to announce any changes to his request that those groups not assist refugees seeking to come to Nebraska.
Kudlacz said she fears the impact Kintner's bill could have on Sudanese people who have waited for decades to start new lives in America.
Her agency started in 2000 and at that point resettled exclusively Sudanese refugees.
The process slowed for several years — she noted one man who waited three years for his wife and children to join him here, which they did late last year — but has just recently started to speed up following complications overseas.
"It would just be awful if that had to stop," Kudlacz said.
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