TWIN FALLS • Opponents of the refugee center run by the College of Southern Idaho plan to push ahead with a ballot measure to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County, although the county prosecutor thinks the proposal is unconstitutional and could stir up a legal hornet’s nest.
Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs, who is charged with reviewing proposed ballot measures under Idaho law, submitted a five-page opinion late last week saying it would violate the federal government’s powers to regulate immigration and pose other potential legal challenges.
“The initiative does not state a clear explanation as to why the prohibition of refugee resettlement in the county is necessary for the general welfare,” Loebs wrote. “Enforcement of the provisions of this proposed initiative would invite prolonged litigation regarding why its provisions are not ‘arbitrary, capricious, and/or discriminatory.’”
The initiative also says county commissioners would be criminally charged should they seek to repeal it, which Loebs said would be illegal under the principle that one legislature cannot bind a future one.
“There are no alterations or revisions to this initiative that would render it constitutional and/or legal,” Loebs concluded.
However, his recommendations are not binding, and Rick Martin, the head of the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center, said Tuesday he plans to press forward, the only change being a correction on the election date in the original petition.
The measure, Martin said, is a referendum on the refugee center.
“It’ll give the voters a chance to send a message to the (college) Board of Trustees on whether they want a refugee center or not,” he said.
Supporters would need to gather 3,842 signatures — 20 percent of how many people voted in the county in the 2014 general election — to get the measure on the May ballot. If it passes, Martin said it would be hard for the college to justify trying to block it in court, especially with a trustee election in November 2016.
“It would be political suicide for the college to fight it,” he said.
CSI has managed the refugee program for more than three decades, and about 5,000 refugees have been resettled in the Twin Falls area since 1984. The program became controversial when news came out this spring that some Syrians will likely be among 300 refugees who will be resettled here over the year starting Oct. 1. Some opponents have raised fears of Islamic radicals being among the refugees, said the State Department’s vetting isn’t adequate, or criticized the cost of the program and of providing assistance to refugees.
“Our nation is deeply in debt ... and the money that’s being used to run this refugee center is borrowed,” Martin said.
Benjamin Cover, a visiting associate professor with the University of Idaho College of Law in Moscow, said that, generally speaking, if a local government tries to regulate immigration-related matters, opponents can challenge it on the grounds that they lack the authority, that federal law preempts it or that it violates the rights of the center or of the refugees.
“The strength of these arguments in this particular case would depend on the details of the proposed regulation and the refugee centers it would impact,” Cover wrote in an email.
More than 4 million Syrians have fled their country, displaced by the civil war there, and the issue has been in international headlines this week as more Syrians have been making the often-dangerous journey trying to reach Western Europe. Some American politicians have been calling on the U.S. to allow in more Syrian refugees in response.