Rhode Island state police doing criminal background checks on more than 100 people evacuated to the state from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina found that more than half had criminal arrest records–one third of them for felonies, the Associated Press reports. Around the nation, authorities are checking refugees’ pasts as they are welcomed into homes, schools, houses of worship, and housing projects. In some states, half the refugees have rap sheets. “It’s a balancing act,” said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. “We don’t want to treat them like criminals after they have been traumatized, but we want to make sure they are in no danger nor the families they are housed with.”
Civil libertarians call the checks race and class discrimination against people who have suffered already. Said Steve Brown, of the Rhode Island ACLU: “The mere fact that people have past criminal records in and of itself doesn’t say anything about harm to the community.” In South Carolina, state police checked every evacuee flown there by the government. Of 547 people checked, 301 had criminal records. While most had been law-abiding for years or had committed minor offenses, the group included those convicted of rape or aggravated assault. Two had warrants, but were not held because the states weren’t interested in extraditing them. State police in West Virginia said roughly half of the nearly 350 Katrina victims evacuated by the government to that state had criminal records, and 22 percent have a history of committing a violent crime.