Lawmakers seek financial penalties for charities who aid refugee relocation to Arizona

PHOENIX -- 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 of 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 Department of Economic Security to suspend its participation in the federally funded refugee resettlement program.

But as other states which have taken similar steps have found, approval of SB 1468 would not stop the refugees. All it would do is mean the federal government would continue to send people to the state, only without cooperation and coordination with the state.

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 her 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,’’ Johnson explained. “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 SB 1468 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 Johson 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 said 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 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 suspending refugees.

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

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