TWIN FALLS — As seven refugees watched on, teacher Anat Askari wrote a phrase on a whiteboard: “siblings = brothers and sisters.”
It was a lesson during a Tuesday morning English class at the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center. The students have been in Twin Falls anywhere from one week to one year, and all already have some English language skills.
Askari asked each student in her classroom two questions: Do you have any siblings? How many brothers and how many sisters?
When it was Alphonse Raly’s turn, he paused for a moment. “I don’t understand,” he said. But after a brief reminder lesson, he didn’t hesitant to answer correctly in English.
Alphonse and his wife, Beatrice, are both in the class after arriving in Twin Falls in early March. Their Congolese family of eight was resettled here after spending 17 years in a Burundi refugee camp.
They’re among a smaller-than-usual group of refugees to arrive in Twin Falls over the past six months.
Federal refugee policies and security vetting changes has led to a slowdown in the number of refugees arriving in Idaho. But resettlement agencies expect numbers will pick up soon. In the meantime, fewer newcomers means budget challenges and more time to help refugees already here become integrated into their new community.
“Compared to past years, the number of refugees arriving are at a trickle,” said Tara Wolfson, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees. “We’re optimistic that it will increase in the latter half of the year.”
Across Idaho, only 146 refugees — nearly half from the Democratic Republic of the Congo — have been resettled since a new fiscal year began Oct. 1. That’s significantly fewer than the same time period last year, when 426 newcomers arrived.
Here in Twin Falls, CSI’s Refugee Center has provided services to thousands of refugees since the 1980s. Typically, it receives federal approval to take in up to 300 newcomers each year. This year, it’s capped at 195.
But even with the lower capacity, CSI Refugee Center director Zeze Rwasama said he doesn’t anticipate taking in that many. He’s expecting a total of 52 by the end of April — all from Africa, including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Eritrea.
That’s just 26 percent of what CSI’s capacity for this fiscal year, which is already more than halfway over.
“If we continue with this speed of arrival, I don’t even know if we’ll receive half of the 195,” Rwasama said.
But “I have hope that this will pick up,” he said, adding it’s a trend consistent with what other Idaho resettlement agencies are seeing. A total of 17 refugees are scheduled to arrive in Twin Falls this month alone.
There are challenges that come with taking in fewer refugees. It’s hard to manage the Refugee Center’s budget, Rwasama said, because the center receives federal funding per refugee who arrives. “Everything is impacted when you don’t have funding to provide services.”
The slowness in refugee arrivals is also affecting family reunification, he said. “It’s taking a long time for that to happen.”
Recently, two siblings arrived in Twin Falls. They received final approval a year ago for resettlement, Rwasama said, and were waiting to join family members already in Twin Falls.
“They were just very happy to be reunited,” he said, but added he doesn’t think there’s a valid reason for the hold up in processing refugee resettlement cases.
There’s a lot of uncertainty at the federal level surrounding refugee resettlement, Rwasama said, and “every day, new things are coming.”
Nationwide, the number of refugees that can be resettled this fiscal year is capped at 45,000, the lowest in years. “So that has affected us here,” Rwasama said.
After a four-month refugee ban in the United States, refugee admissions resumed this fall under new, stricter screening rules, but nationals from 11 countries believed to pose higher risk to national security face even tougher scrutiny, the Associated Press reported.
Refugees face an extensive backlog and waiting periods that can take years. Additional screening will likely lengthen the wait.
Here in Idaho, there are three refugee resettlement agencies: the CSI Refugee Center and two in Boise. The Treasure Valley used to be home to another agency — World Relief Boise — but it closed in June 2017, largely due to declining refugee arrivals and funding.
Controversy around refugee resettlement arose in 2015 in Twin Falls following a CSI Refugee Center announcement it expected it could receive Syrian refugees. That didn’t happen.
Rick Martin, a local opponent of refugee resettlement and head of the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center, ran unsuccessfully for election to the CSI board of trustees and circulated a petition for a ballot measure seeking to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County, but it didn’t receive enough signatures.
Despite the recent decline in refugee arrivals, “there are more displaced people in world now than in any recent times,” Wolfson said — a total of about 65.6 million people. Among them, 22.5 million are under the age of 18.
Less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled, she said. “If things slow, that number goes even below that. I think it’s been hard knowing there’s so many people in need of safety and security.”
Plus, there are economic impacts with fewer available employees and less money going into local communities, Wolfson said.
But the slowness has allowed resettlement agencies — including CSI — to spend more time focusing on refugees who are already here.
During Askari’s English class Tuesday morning at the CSI Refugee Center, four sentences were written on a whiteboard, including “I ___ the ball” and “I ___ when I’m upset.” Students had four words to choose from to fill in the blanks.
Askari knelt down next to two students, including Alphonse, and held up flashcards with pictures on them and used hand motions to help them understand the four words, including “throw” and “cry.”
As class was wrapping up, students received a few reminders of abbreviations they’d already learned: that SSN stands for Social Security Number and DOB stands for date of birth.
It’s a practical lesson newcomers can take with them as they adjust to life in a new country.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
BURLEY — A Twin Falls man will be hosting a series of concerts at the River’s Edge Golf Club marina in Burley this summer.
C.R. Larsen of Larsen Media received the Burley City Council’s nod of approval for the concerts last month.
“It’s going to be very relaxed, non-political and just food, beverages and music,” Larsen said.
The music, he said, will be a mix of rock and roll, classic rock, country and blues.
“It’s kind of a marriage of all genres,” Larsen said.
The first concert, Rockin’ The Snake 2018, will be held June 16 and feature headliner Foghat, with Dirty Johnny, Rough Draft, American Steel, Asphalt Buffet and 2 AM Logic.
“The concert will feature 10 hours of music in a family-friendly environment,” Larsen said.
The concert will run from noon to 10 p.m.
According to Burley City Council minutes, Larsen worked with the city fire chief to develop a fire plan.
The city will establish a fee for the events for the use of the park and a separate fee for use the golf driving range, which will be used for parking.
The city council decided not to use the city’s alcohol license for the event, but Larsen has his own license.
The Snake River Fry Fest will also be held over three days on Aug. 17-19 to coincide with the end of the Cassia County Fair and Rodeo.
The August fest will feature Quiet Riot, Hell’s Bells, Little Texas, Restless Heart, Art Mulcahy and Roadside Flare, Dead Fervor, Emily Stanton Band, Darci Carlson, Hair Nations, Washed in Black, Stargazer, Eric May, Dr. Crue Dogs on the Lam, Hysteria, Mirror Rim, Fallen Angel, Legends Fade, Dusty Leigh and the Claim Jumpers, Hurdy Gurdy Girls, Jonemery Dodds and Sissy Brown.
This is the inaugural year for the concert series, Larsen said.
Larsen chose Burley for the concerts because it is a “good, vibrant community,” and when he looked at the River’s Edge venue he thought it was a good location for the concerts.
During the concerts, there will be a fenced beer and wine garden and a fenced children’s area where the toys are located that will be staffed by kindergarten teachers.
“They will be doing games and things,” Larsen said.
Children under the age of 12 will be admitted free to the concerts when they are accompanied by a paying adult.
Tickets for the June 16 concert will go on sale April 18 at Brown Paper Tickets online at https://rockinthesnake.brownpapertickets.com.
Early bird tickets are $20 and general admission is $30.
Tickets for the August concerts will cost $30 each for the Friday and Saturday events and $35 for Sunday or a 3-day pass can be purchased for $75. Tickets will go on sale through the same ticket venue on May 1.
TWIN FALLS — At least four Magic Valley counties are joining a nationwide lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, while two others are considering it.
Officials in Cassia, Camas, Gooding and Blaine counties have agreed to file lawsuits against companies that made and distributed painkillers, joining more than 500 other counties across the U.S. The lawsuits allege that the companies’ marketing of opioids as safe and effective for long-term use contributed to a national public health crisis, at a financial and social cost to counties.
Available data suggests that south-central Idaho hasn’t been hit as hard by the opioid epidemic as other parts of the country. But county officials point out that opioid abuse can be difficult to measure quantitatively — and that it could become more prevalent in the future.
By filing lawsuits, some commissioners say they hope to learn more about the local impacts of opioid use, support other counties that have experienced greater damages, and prepare for a possible increase in opioid abuse in the years to come.
“I think counties are probably beginning to wake up to the fact that this is an issue that is being poorly tracked in Idaho but may be moving under the radar, so to speak,” said Blaine County commissioner Larry Schoen.
Schoen said he views the benefits of joining as twofold: “Learning more about opioid use and addiction in our community, and participating in any settlement with the manufacturers.”
The four Magic Valley counties will be represented by law firms based in New York and Wisconsin, at no cost to the counties. If the lawsuit is successful, the law firms will collect a percentage of the recovery.
In a telephone meeting with Jerome County commissioners Monday, attorney Erin Dickinson of the Wisconsin firm Crueger Dickinson described the litigation as a “mass action,” rather than class action, lawsuit, as each county will need to file an individual case. Those cases will be consolidated in a federal court in Ohio.
Jerome commissioners did not make a decision on Monday whether to move forward with a lawsuit. First, they said, they want to do some more research on how the opioid crisis has affected Jerome County.
“I do not have a clue if this is impacting our county,” Commissioner Cathy Roemer said. “It might behoove us to determine that.”
Blaine County, which decided to file a lawsuit on Mar. 20, was the third Magic Valley county to do so, following Camas and Gooding in early March.
Cassia County commissioners agreed to file a lawsuit on Monday, and will sign an engagement letter next week, according to Commissioner Tim Darrington.
Darrington said the lawsuit has helped bring the issue of opioid addiction to the “forefront” of Cassia commissioners’ awareness.
“I think we have more damage to us than what we realized in the different areas,” such as costs to the health care and criminal justice systems, Darrington said. Meanwhile, he added, the pharmaceutical companies “make billions on this.”
While counties do not pay a fee to the law firms representing them, there may be some additional costs involved in researching local opioid use, Schoen and Darrington said.
Twin Falls commissioners have not heard a formal presentation on the lawsuit, but have been in contact with Dan Chadwick, former director of the Idaho Association of Counties, Commissioner Terry Kramer said. Chadwick is serving as a liaison of sorts between Idaho counties and the law firms offering to represent them.
Like Darrington and Schoen, Kramer said he suspected opioid addiction may be more common in his county than the available data would suggest.
“We don’t see tremendous amount of opioids problems here,” Kramer said. “But I think they’re coming.”
Twin Falls commissioners don’t plan to make a decision until the county prosecutor, Grant Loebs, has had a chance to do some research on the litigation, Kramer said.
“Some of the counties have done it independently as commissioners, but we would prefer to do it with the blessing of our prosecuting attorney,” Kramer said.
Lincoln County commissioners have not discussed the possibility of filing a lawsuit, Commissioner Rebecca Wood said.
Commissioners from Minidoka County did not immediately return a request for comment.
HEYBURN — The deceased driver of a semi-truck has still not been identified after the truck crashed through the guardrail on the Interstate 84 exit 211 overpass on April 2 and landed on another vehicle.
According to the Idaho State Police collision report, the driver of a 2016 International tractor owned by ME Transport Inc., Little Rock, Arkansas, was unrecognizable after the crash that engulfed the truck and the pickup it landed on in flames.
The 1997 GMC pickup was owned by Gregory Grove, of Albion.
Grove, 63, was traveling on Idaho Highway 24 under the interstate overpass. He was not injured.
According to witnesses and evidence collected by the Idaho State Police, the semi-truck was traveling westbound and the driver failed to stay in the lane and struck the guardrail on the right-hand side of the road. Witnesses said the truck caught fire after striking the first guardrail section. The truck then veered left and struck the left shoulder of the road. The truck destroyed a section of bridge rail on the left side-hand side of the bridge and fell off the overpass.