A handful of organizations that provide services for Boise area refugees gathered Nov. 17 for a quarterly meeting at the Ada County Courthouse, where representatives took the opportunity to push back against anti-immigration rhetoric surrounding the terror attacks in Beirut and Paris.
"I have a hard time believing that [the refugee vetting] process is full of holes," Idaho Office for Refugees
Director Jan Reeves told an audience of approximately 50 people. "If you look at other ways of entering the country ... none of these ways is as rigorous as the process refugees undergo."
It has been a harrowing week both for refugees and their advocates. Days after the Beirut and Paris attacks, which took place Nov. 12 and 13, respectively, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and two dozen of his colleagues across the country called for President Barack Obama to suspend the U.S. refugee admissions program
—at least until its vetting process can be thoroughly audited.
It was a sentiment echoed by attendee Dan Farley.
"There are thousands of people here who have bogus IDs," he said. "I get real concerned when I see something like this, but if we don't enact states' rights, we could have a real problem."
Other recent events colored the proceedings. Currently, two referenda in Twin Falls County are calling for the closure of the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, and former Boise mayoral candidate Judy Peavey-Derr described refugees as a "blight
" in some Boise neighborhoods.
International Rescue Committee Executive Director Julianne Donnelly Tzul urged attendees to put refugees' situations into context.
"There are many people who have been living with violence for a long time. ... These are the folks we're here to help," she said.
One such refugee was the afternoon's guest speaker, Kibrom Milash, whose restaurant, Kibrom's Restaurant
, was destroyed when the Boise International Market
burned earlier this year.
Milash came to Boise from Eritrea in 2013, and told the audience it was his dream to open a restaurant in the United States after running a similar restaurant in an Ethiopian refugee camp. He garnered applause when he told the audience he would reopen his restaurant at a location on State Street in January 2016. He said starting and reopening his business was possible because people in Boise have been eager to help.
"It's better to ask anything of anyone. I do not feel ashamed to ask for anything," he said. "In America, everything has a solution."
Meanwhile, organizations that help refugees become more self sufficient, start their own businesses, learn English and other life skills have continued to expand. Agency for New Americans
expects to serve up to 185 individuals in 2015-2016. World Relief Boise
has resettled 29 individuals from Burundi, Sudan and other countries, and expects to resettle 235-260 people in this fiscal year.
Correction: This story has been corrected to properly attribute International Rescue Committee Executive Director Julianne Donnelly Tzul, who was asked at late notice to speak in place of Agency for New Americans Program Director Christina Bruce-Bennion.
Boise Weekly regrets the error.