TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center doesn’t expect to be impacted much by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow a limited 120-day refugee ban.
A June 26 ruling allows President Donald Trump to forge ahead with a version of his executive order banning travel from six mostly Muslim countries to the U.S. for 90 days and halting refugee resettlement for 120 days.
But unlike the original order he issued in January, refugees could be exempted if they have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” the Associated Press reported.
That means a close family member such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling.
It’s “very common” for refugees coming to Twin Falls to have family already in town, said Zeze Rwasama, director of the CSI Refugee Center. “We have many families that are waiting for loved ones to come.”
That’s the case for one family scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Twin Falls. They’re joining a family member who already lives here.
During interviews with federal officials, refugees are asked if they know someone in the United States, which city that person lives in and what their relationship is, Rwasama said.
When it comes to the CSI Refugee Center’s overall operations, “I really don’t see anything that has been affected because of the Supreme Court decision,” Rwasama said. “But I am just very sad to hear that.”
The Times-News contacted more than a dozen local refugees asking for their reactions and the vast majority didn’t respond. And a few either weren’t available or declined to comment Thursday.
Rick Martin is a local opponent of refugee resettlement and head of the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center.
He ran unsuccessfully for election to the CSI board of trustees and circulated a petition last year for a ballot measure seeking to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County.
That happened after controversy arose in 2015 following a CSI Refugee Center announcement it expected it could receive Syrian refugees. So far, none have been resettled in Twin Falls.
Martin said he’s “really satisfied” with the Supreme Court’s decision about the refugee ban. It will allow Congress time to look at tightening security measures, he said.
There’s some confusion, though, in “deciphering who’s an immediate family member,” he said. “That ought to be interesting how they work with that.”
Martin said he thinks it would be beneficial for CSI to use the time during the refugee ban to look at its program, and consider getting out of the refugee business and focusing on education.
Many refugees are “destitute and desperate for help,” he said, adding he believes many are falling through the cracks and CSI isn’t meeting the needs of all refugees in Twin Falls.
Trump hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a “victory for national security,” the Associated Press reported, but it’s likely to set off a new round of court disputes over anti-terror efforts and religious discrimination.
Supreme Court justices will hear full arguments in October in the case that has stirred heated emotions across the nation and pointed rebukes from lower courts saying the administration is targeting Muslims.
The president initially announced the travel ban a week after he took office in January and revised it in March after setbacks in court.
For the CSI Refugee Center, “we are ready to receive refugees at any time when they are sent to us,” Rwasama said.
But it’s sad the Supreme Court has broken the country’s tradition of welcoming refugees, he said. He thinks the justices interpreted the law to conclude there wasn’t anything legally they could do.
CSI’s Refugee Center has provided services to thousands of refugees since the 1980s. Typically, it resettles up to 300 newcomers each year.
Since the fiscal year began in October, it has received 217 refugees — many of whom are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Beyond the family arriving Tuesday, no-one else is scheduled to come to Twin Falls this fiscal year, Rwasama said, but that could change.
Across Idaho, the number of refugees slated to arrive this year is expected to hover between 750 and 800 — down from an original projection of 1,175.
Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, wasn’t available to comment Thursday.
One reason for the drop: One of the Treasure Valley’s three resettlement agencies, World Relief, closed its Boise office as a result of Trump’s executive order.