TWIN FALLS • The College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center is undergoing a regular yearly audit this week.
Two officials from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) — a non-governmental organization — arrived Monday night and will be in Twin Falls for three days.
They’re checking to make sure the Refugee Center is meeting requirements, and talking with employees and refugees.
“We also want to hear about what works here and what’s challenging here,” USCRI program officer Jessica Lilley told a community group Tuesday.
They could get an earful. In April, CSI announced it could resettle 300 refugees this year in Twin Falls — possibly, some from Syria. Since then, a group opposed to the center has formed and called for it to be closed.
USCRI is one of nine agencies that resettles refugees in the United States. It oversees the CSI Refugee Center and is involved in deciding who comes to Twin Falls.
All nine agencies are non-governmental organizations, but receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of State.
“Part of our responsibility is to monitor our affiliate offices around the country,” Lilley told the Magic Valley Refugee Advocates during a Tuesday meeting.
It’s a requirement by the U.S. Department of State, she told about a dozen members of the group.
Members of the Magic Valley Refugee Advocates asked questions about topics such as the resettlement process.
Jill Skeem asked if Lilley is hearing concerns nationwide about refugee resettlement or if it’s more prevalent in Twin Falls.
From time to time, groups respond in opposition to a particular population of refugees, Lilley said.
“You’re not alone,” she said, but added there’s certainly a “squeaky wheel element” in Twin Falls.
USCRI tries to continually put out updated information to combat misconceptions, Lilley added.
Also, “it’s important to share the right information” that’s accurate and credible, said Ruslan Maksutov, a program officer for USCRI.
Getting resettled in the U.S. is a multi-year process, Lilley said. The U.S. resettles about 70,000 people each year — more than any other nation.
Nationwide, there are more than 300 resettlement affiliates, including CSI and three in Boise.
Deborah Silver — a leader of Magic Valley Refugee Advocates — was teaching at CSI in the early 1980s when the college became a resettlement agency.
“There was excitement about this,” she said, adding the college was bringing diversity into the community. The center has resettled about 5,000 people since then.
It’s unique for a college to be a resettlement agency, Lilley said. Most of her organization’s affiliates are nonprofit church groups.
“Historically, religious groups were one of the first to assist with the resettlement of refugees,” she said.
But nationwide, the nine agencies that oversee resettlement aren’t allowed to provide any services that are “religious in nature,” Lilley said.
CSI has a great refugee resettlement system, she said, and goes above and beyond to help newcomers.
The fact that CSI is a public school may be what’s complicating the issue in the minds of opponents, she said.
But only a minority of Magic Valley residents are opposed to the Refugee Center, refugee advocate group member Erika Willsey said.
Earlier this summer, 512 people attended the Refugee Center’s annual “Refugee Day.” The Magic Valley Refugee Advocates have about 300 people following its Facebook page and has collected 200 signatures of people who support the center.
Another question from the group: Who decides where a refugee ends up in the U.S.?
If a refugee has family members in the U.S., they’ll typically be placed in the same city, Lilly said, unless the city doesn’t have a resettlement agency or if there’s a reason a resettlement center can’t accommodate them.
If a refugee doesn’t have family in the U.S., cases are allotted among the nine resettlement agencies, she said.
Then, they’re placed at specific sites based on a number of factors, such as medical care and housing availability.
“This is such a long, drawn-out, strategic process,” Lilley said.