Guest Opinions

Preserve Idaho’s warm welcome to refugees: Lift president’s resettlement limits

The Idaho way is kindness and treating all we meet with respect and dignity. Idahoans welcome refugees into our workplaces, congregations, and our kitchen tables. What happens then is immeasurable.

I know this because of Olga Nlemvo, who came to Boise as a refugee. I met Olga almost five years ago in her in-home child care business. Now, she and her family knock on my door, bringing bowls of greens and onions from their farm to share. Olga eyes our garden and gives me serious grief over the weeds. She and her husband trade jokes with me and my husband. Nearby, our children get down to the serious business of negotiating screen time and one-upping each other about the best online worlds.

Our lives are richer for our shared perspectives and trust.

This friendship, Olga’s farm, her children playing with mine, these moments are why preserving the pathway for refugees to join us in Idaho is essential.

We have a duty to protect the structure that brings Olga and her family, and all the other refugee co-workers, friends, and entrepreneurs to the United States in the first place. Right now there are unprecedented numbers of people displaced worldwide. And yet, the number of refugees permitted to come into the United States has plummeted. In 2016, the United States worked to resettle 110,000 people. For next year, the administration has capped the number of people who may be resettled in the United States to a maximum of only 18,000 people. That’s an 83.6% drop from 2016. The number of refugees coming to Idaho each year has plummeted along with it, from a little over 1,100 a year to only 558 the past year, a 49% drop. I don’t know how many people will resettle to safety in Idaho next year.

Refugee resettlement is a lifeline that the United States provides only to the most vulnerable families; each person who doesn’t make it here is a person living in danger. A daughter. A son. A wife. A brother. This is why both Republican and Democratic administrations have demonstrated U.S. values in action by setting an average admissions number of 95,000 refugees since 1980. In fact, the highest numbers set for refugee admissions to the United States were set by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (140,000 and 142,000, respectively).

As individual Idahoans, we have a chance to help stranded families make it safely to our communities. I urge readers to raise their voices in support of refugees, by championing proposed federal legislation that protects refugee resettlement: the GRACE Act.

The Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement (GRACE) Act, now pending in Congress, sets 95,000 as the minimum annual number for refugees to be welcomed to the United States. This number is not extraordinary. In fact, it is the historic average set by presidents since the contemporary program was established in 1980, and far less than the numbers set by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Let your congressman know you support the GRACE Act, so that Olga and families like hers can enjoy the peace and potential of Idaho: our fall sunrises, with the sharp smell of sage, earth and a bite of frost to come. The leaves cascading from brilliant green to layers of gold, red and brown. Home. To all of us.

Julianne Donnelly Tzul is executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Boise.
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