Annual Manual 2018: The Ever-Changing Face of Boise 

Tides change but hope remains: "It's more than a job. It is my mission to help people."

If there was ever a "worst day in Boise," June 30, 2018, may have been it. Nearly a month later, the city is still reeling from the events that unfolded at the Wylie Street apartment complex in northwest Boise. Before the sun had set on that fateful Saturday, nine people, all refugees, had been stabbed by a lone assailant. A three-year-old girl later died of her injuries. Two days after that, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter looked out on a crowd of thousands at a vigil to honor the refugees and said, "This is the Boise that I know: one that comes closer together."

click to enlarge JASON JACOBSEN
  • Jason Jacobsen

Indeed, Boise has welcomed hundreds of refugees. Resettled in Idaho over the past few decades, many have come from some of the most dangerous places in the world. Idaho was repeatedly ranked among the top states for refugee resettlement per capita, but under the Trump administration, the number of those resettled has dwindled to a mere 146 admitted during the first half of fiscal year 2018. Compare that to the 426 refugees who arrived at the same time in 2017.

"There are so many in the pipeline," said Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans, a Boise-based nonprofit. "Everybody's coming here to have a second chance, to have a new life."

Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hodzic fled the Bosnian Civil War in the 1990s and spent a year in Hungary waiting for her fiance to leave the Sarajevo, as men were not permitted to leave until the conflict was over. By 1996, Hodzic and her husband were resettled to Idaho. She was seven months pregnant.

"We decided to come to the U.S. because the conflict was still very fresh after the war," she said. "We just wanted to find a place where we could start a family without being judged, without my kid feeling divided, because my husband and I [practice] different religions. That meant we had a mixed marriage, which was not popular."

click to enlarge Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans - GRETA GARDNER
  • Greta Gardner
  • Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans

Hodzic said looking back now, it feels like a dream. Arriving in Idaho seven months pregnant, her stress level compounded by culture shock, Hodzic struggled to find a doctor.

"There was one place and they said they had an opening four months out." said Hodzic. "I said, 'I probably won't need you by then.'"

She gave birth to a baby girl, and Hodzic is proud to say her daughter, a U.S. citizen, is now a student at the University of Idaho.

As program director of the Agency for New Americans, Hodzic knows firsthand that the already-chaotic process of resettlement is also influenced by the economic and political climates.

"It's different for everyone; timing is everything," she said. "For example, right now, the job market is great. Just 10 years ago, we were trying to figure out where to find any jobs."

The ANA's first step in igniting the resettlement process is to facilitate refugees' economic sustainability. Hodzic added that of utmost priority is connecting refugees to their new community by ensuring that newcomers feel welcomed. The ANA partners with the English Language Center, Women's and Children's Alliance, Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program, Create Common Good and many more organizations to further that mission, which aims to "improve the educational, social and economic wellbeing of new Americans and communities in which they live by creating individual, agency and public/private partnerships."

Hodzic takes personal ownership of that mission.

"It's more than a job. It is my mission to help people," she said, teary-eyed. "I'm sorry, it's just hard to know that so many families are just waiting for somebody to decide. It's very disheartening to see what's happening because the U.S. has always been a leader. Also, this whole country is based on immigration and a country of immigrants, and we're just trying to structure the process and help people who are already here."

Hodzic said it's a mistake to think refugee resettlement belongs in a vacuum.

"There's a small percentage—less than 1 percent—of refugees that are actually resettled. I really think we all need to remember that everybody in this particular country came from somewhere. For refugees, they're legally here. Sometimes we just need to look a little outside of ourselves."

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