Signed into Law: South Dakota Ends State Refugee Resettlement Agreements

PIERRE, S.D. (March 17, 2017) – South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed a bill into law repealing the authority of the state Department of Social Services to enter into agreements related to the Refugee Act of 1980.

A coalition of 12 Republican representatives and senators sponsored Senate Bill 124 (SB124). Originally, the bill would have required the state legislature to approve refugee resettlement in the state, effectively giving it a veto over future resettlement. An amendment in the State Affairs Committee stripped away the approval requirement. But the law did strip the authority of the state Department of Social Services to unilaterally enter into agreements with the federal government for refugee resettlement by repealing SD Codified L § 28-1-47 (2015). That provision allowed the department to “enter into agreements with agencies of the United States for the purpose of participating in the Refugee Act of 1980.”

The new law also increases reporting requirements for private agencies in the state assisting with refugee resettlement. Agencies must report information including services provided, demographics and the number of refugees assisted from each country.

From a practical standpoint, SB124 won’t change much, other than the reporting requirements. Currently, Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota runs the state’s resettlement program. That won’t change under the new law and it won’t limit resettlement.

But the law does increase transparency and gives the state more control over future resettlement. It will also prevent the state from directly running resettlement programs without legislative action.

Even in states with private resettlement programs, state programs provides vital cash, medical and social service assistance. In other words, the federal government depends on significant state action to resettle refugees. Without state administration of the federal program, it would be difficult to successfully resettle refugees. Even Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress agrees, saying such policies would “potentially make settlement of refugees more difficult than it would be if the states cooperated.”

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