On May 9, 2017, the Twin Falls City Council passed a “neighborly community” resolution. On the heels of the anti-refugee sentiment of 2016, which included a parachuting in by a Breitbart reporter, the council felt it needed to take a stance.
Public comment at council meetings was in favor of the resolution — about three-fourths in support, as we reported at the time. The resolution, as Mayor Shawn Barigar emphasized, changed no actual policies; it was essentially a gesture declaring that the anti-refugee rhetoric amplified by the fringes of the Magic Valley was not shared by most in the valley.
But City Manager Travis Rothweiler said the phone calls and emails he received were much more split than the public comment. Then-Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins, who was one of two council members to vote against the resolution, said the feedback she received was more like 80 percent in opposition to the resolution.
Right-wing websites claimed that Twin Falls was “overrun” by refugees. Citizens expressed concern that the resolution was a step toward making Twin Falls a “sanctuary city.” Support was the majority, but dissent was noisy.
So coming up on one year since the resolution, we ask residents of Twin Falls and the Magic Valley to look around. Have the fears come to fruition? Have the results lived up to the panic?
As we reported earlier this month, federal refugee policies and security vetting changes have contributed to a slowdown in the number of refugees arriving in Idaho. For the first six months of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 65 percent fewer refugees arrived in Idaho from the same period a year prior, down to 146 refugees statewide. Tara Wolfson, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, said the number had slowed to a “trickle.”
Before Twin Falls passed its own resolution, several other cities, including Ketchum and Boise, passed similar resolutions. It was hardly an end-all; just this year, the Idaho House passed a silly anti-Sharia Law bill that eventually died in the Senate. But it was a step.
It was a firm declaration that Idaho welcomes the same kinds of outsiders who were welcomed here throughout the 1900s. From investors and farmers who headed west to build a new life, to immigrants looking to do the same, this is a land of outsiders.
The number of refugees coming to Idaho has slowed for now. But the lesson from Twin Falls’ “neighborly community” resolution remains strong. Like so many ideologies rooted in fear, it was much ado about nothing. One year later, the Magic Valley still boasts a strong economy, minuscule unemployment and a generally friendly, cooperative environment that helps it maintain that elusive small-town feeling.
That, to us, sounds exactly like a neighborly community.