TWIN FALLS — In a last-minute press conference Friday, We the People Magic Valley announced it wants U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to come to Twin Falls to show them “how life in America is really going.”
Earlier that afternoon, organizers called local media to say an announcement would be about the ongoing refugee issue in Twin Falls.
At Twin Falls City Park, the group said the family of the 5-year-old victim of a reported sexual assault in June at the Fawnbrook Apartments was coming to the event.
But Julie Ruf with We the People later told reporters the family couldn’t make it because of the challenges of their living situation, saying they’re now living at a hotel.
After talking about the Fawnbrook case and refugee resettlement, Ruf told reporters she wants Clinton and Trump to come to Twin Falls to “see how America is being changed by this new crisis.” And she later added: “We want to tell you how life in America is really going today.”
We the People Magic Valley is a group that includes the local Act for American chapter, John Birch Society and Dallypost Tactical, a group run by Pocatello-area political activist Lance Earl.
It describes itself on a public Facebook group page as “a coalition of patriots who are concerned with the direction our nation — and our community — is heading in.”
The group’s goals are “preservation of our Republic and her Constitution, civil liberties, and governmental and United Nations encroachment on our state and community often in violation of the Tenth Amendment.”
About 10 people from We the People Magic Valley stood behind a microphone, as others set up for a group picnic nearby.
After giving a statement, the group allowed for questions from reporters. A few speakers blamed the media, provided advice and told reporters what they should care about.
And they said reporters aren’t asking the right questions. Group members also said they’ve been called names in local publications.
The Times-News, KMVT and BuzzFeed reporters, along with a couple of other media organizations, attended the press conference.
Ruf talked about the Fawnbrook case and refugee-related topics in her statement.
“Refugees have been flooding into Twin Falls as cheap laborers,” she said, adding after their first six months in Twin Falls, they’re living in squalor. She said many are her personal friends.
Employers also have incentives to hire refugees, she claimed, because the federal government has gotten involved.
Resettling refugees became controversial nationwide. Here in Twin Falls, news came out in 2015 that Syrians could be among the refugees to be resettled by the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center. But so far, no Syrian refugees have been resettled here.
A petition for a ballot measure to shut down the Refugee Center failed to get enough signatures this spring.
But debate flared up again in June after reports of three boys from Iraqi and Sudanese families had, according to authorities, sexually assaulted a girl at the Fawnbrook Apartments.
We the People Magic Valley sponsored a Thursday night event, featuring Brigitte Gabriel, head of Act for America. The group focuses on national security and the threat they say radical Islam poses to America.
The Gabriel event was an incredible achievement for We the People Magic Valley’s first event, Hilber Nelson told reporters Friday.
Gabriel provided a call to action, he said. The group decided to host a picnic Friday night.
The picnic would provide a “family atmosphere,” Nelson said, with hot dogs, activities, information and “positive projects you can get involved in right away” to promote civic and religious freedom.
About 25 people showed up at the start of the event.
Dino Omerefendic, a refugee from Bosnia, was walking in Twin Falls City Park and stopped when he overhead the press conference. He started asking questions.
He told We the People members he came to the United States as a refugee in 1997. He lived in Atlanta before coming to the Magic Valley. He said he has never been arrested.
“It seems like you’re painting all refugees with the same brush stroke,” he told the group.
Ruf responded by saying she’s not against the refugee program. She said she just wants it to be run correctly and says it isn’t currently.
Ruf said she advocates to protect refugees from living in squalor and she believes in one law for all people.
Omerefendic said non-refugees are involved in sexual assault cases, too. “Why aren’t we getting angry about all these other little girls?” he said about the victims.
Ruf said she does get angry about other cases. She added she wants to see violence ended for all groups.
Omerefendic told the Times-News he doesn’t think the group understands Muslim views. He said he has friends who are Muslims. And, he said, he feels speakers were lying a little about their views toward refugees.
The Fawnbrook case has attracted nationwide attention because it involves hot topics, Ruf told reporters — law and order, immigration and debate over what to do with the refugee population.
“Despite the best efforts of city officials, it has become a national news story,” Ruf said. The national media, she added, has displayed more concern about political correctness, rather than the hard truth.
Some have called the incident a hoax, she said. “They’ve insulted these family members.”
“The attack that happened to that delicate little 5-year old girl has caused unforeseen circumstances,” she said later in her statement.
The victim’s family is being held to a different standard, Ruf said. She said the family hasn’t received any victim’s aid, “despite what the local media has printed.”
The family, she said, can’t find anywhere else to move.
A goal of We the People, Ruf said, is to make sure the family gets help and that someone advocates for them.