Refugee advocates in Boise didn’t even wait until Friday to rally against President Donald Trump’s executive order calling for “extreme vetting” and limits on resettlement in the U.S.
The International Rescue Committee, the largest of three resettlement agencies in Boise, started organizing phone banks Thursday at three churches and a synagogue. Church and community members visited churches to ask questions to rescue committee staffers and to participate in calls to Idaho’s congressional delegation to voice opposition to the Trump order.
Our community is enlivened and enriched by the presence of refugees.
Sara LaWall, reverend at Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
They worry that the new policy could encourage bias against refugees who already live in Idaho, which has been a refugee resettlement center since 1980. They also worry that the order will split families, since refugees in the U.S. may not be able to finish getting spouses or children through the process.
The Trump order does, however, appear to reflect the sentiments of Idaho’s delegation and governor, all of whom have endorsed tougher vetting and limits on refugee resettlement, at least temporarily.
I want the whole refugee program to be put on hold until foreign vetting is improved and states have more say in the process.
Gov. Butch Otter, unavailable for comment Friday, in November
At Boise churches, “a slow trickle” of people visited on Thursday and Friday, said Sara LaWall, reverend at Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Garden City. She said the executive order targets Muslims, which could make life harder for Muslim refugees already here.
“We’re concerned the religious preference will fuel rising Islamaphobia and we’ll marginalize people purely on a religious basis,” she said. “That will have a detrimental effect on Muslims in our community.”
The other churches holding phone banks were Cathedral of the Rockies, Oasis Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a synagogue, Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel.
Julianne Donnelly Tzul, executive director at the rescue committee, said that refugees already here will be affected by the order in cases in which family members had been expected to join them from the list of banned countries.
At this point, the rescue committee isn’t expecting to reduce its staff or services, she said. Staff that would assist incoming refugees halted by the order will “deepen our services to those who are here,” she said.
The rescue committee had expected to process between 320 and 400 refugees coming to Boise in the fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017, Donnelly Tzul said. So far, the agency helped 127 refugees resettle here, including 14 Syrians and 17 Iraqis.
Donnelly Tzul said she’s skeptical that a new “extreme vetting” system bragged about by Trump will improve the current program. Some refugees — especially many from Iraq — resettle in Idaho after sharing information or working with U.S. forces, she said.
“It’s really unfair and inaccurate to conflate refugees with terrorists,” she said. “All refugees are fleeing terrorists, violence and persecution. We’re taking less than 1 percent of the displaced people of the world. Refugees are already the most thoroughly vetted group to enter the U.S.”
Sen. Mike Crapo’s office received about 30 calls before 3 p.m. Friday, mostly voicing support for resettlement, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said. That was a change from the summer, when most of the refugee-related calls the office received called for tightening resettlement, he said.
That feedback followed a report of refugee children allegedly involved in a sexual assault in Twin Falls. Anti-refugee websites said officials and reporters were covering up a gang rape; the local prosecutor said allegations of a gang rape were false. The case remains sealed.
Sens. Crapo and Jim Risch, U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador, and Gov. Butch Otter all have called for tighter vetting and limiting resettlement.
“This is not a new issue for us,” Nothern said. An executive order “is the right of the president. We certainly expect to see more discussion.”
SYRIA SINGLED OUT
Trump’s order bans Syrian refugees from entry into the United States, which could wrench families apart because some members are already here and are waiting for others, said Asmaa Albukaie, a Syrian refugee who came to Boise in 2014.
Refugees being told they are not acceptable “will stop them dreaming” of coming to the U.S., she said.
Albukaie works at the Agency for New Americans, a refugee resettlement agency in Boise. She’s heard from distraught clients wondering how they will keep families together, and wondering whether they can seek refugee status in Canada.
“How can you be a success if you are discriminated?” she asked. “They will be isolated. The feeling that we are not acceptable is huge.”
Some of the countries included in the order, such as Iraq, have people fighting the Islamic State, the same group Trump wants to stop, said Said Ahmed-Zaid, a Muslim voice in the Treasure Valley and a religion columnist for the Idaho Statesman.
“I am hoping that whatever executive order is decided that it will be challenged in court if it is unconstitutional,” he said. “We won’t be silent.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Said Ahmed-Zaid’s name.
OTTER: PAUSE RESETTLEMENT
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was not available for comment Friday, but his office said he maintains the position he outlined in November:
“My concerns have always centered around two things: the federal government’s lack of attention to the very real security risks that an influx of poorly or inadequately vetted refugees pose to our citizens, and the government’s unwillingness to include the states in its decision-making process.
“My reasonable opposition to the status quo included a temporary halt to the refugee resettlement program until a thorough re-evaluation of current practices was completed. It’s not a matter of wanting to see resettlement to Idaho permanently stopped. ... I want the whole refugee program to be put on hold until foreign vetting is improved and states have more say in the process.”