TWIN FALLS • While opponents of the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center handed out fliers Tuesday night, five Bosnian refugees were waiting nearby in a large crowd of community members.
With vocal opponents, “it’s really hard to hold back,” said refugee Adriana Mustafic, and not take it personally.
She thought the opposition was a phase and it would pass. But now, she feels if she doesn’t say anything, the opposition succeeds.
The Times-News held a community forum Tuesday night about the refugee program.
It’s the first refugee-related meeting the five Bosnian women have attended, and “hopefully not the last,” Emina Mustafic said. They’ve all been in the United States for at least 10 years.
The CSI program can resettle up to 300 refugees each year. Next year, some might be from Syria.
The first audience members started arriving more than an hour before the forum started. By the time the doors opened, a line stretched from the CSI Fine Arts Center to the parking lot and around the side of the building.
The forum started 10 minutes late to accommodate as many attendees as possible still waiting in line. About 725 people attended.
A group of nearly 10 people got up mid-way through the forum to leave and one man shouted: “This is propaganda.”
Times-News Editor Matt Christensen responded, asking to let the panelists get through the questions. Many audience members clapped and cheered.
Soon after, several others in the audience shouted out questions and comments about the recent federal terrorism trial of a Boise refugee and other security concerns.
Toward the end, one man asked if someone could address what the audience could do to help refugees.
As for the opposition surrounding the Refugee Center in Twin Falls, the city is not unique but “a rare occurrence,” said Larry Bartlett, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office on Refugee Admissions, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Before the forum, members of the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center passed out fliers. The group cites concerns such as the safety of the community and cost to taxpayers.
Group leader Rick Martin said he was in attendance “just to listen and learn.”
“We’re using the opportunity to inform and educate,” he said. Martin also invited about 200 people to attend the forum.
He wanted answers to many questions, including how many contagious diseases are diagnosed among refugees once they’re in Twin Falls, what budget the Twin Falls School District has for educating refugee students, and how many refugees Twin Falls has been approved to receive next fiscal year.
Ronalee Linsenmann came from Nampa for the forum and helped with handing out fliers.
“Everybody really has a say in what’s going on,” she said, since they’re taxpayers.
Authorities have testified there’s no way to screen incoming Syrian refugees, Linsenmann said, and there’s no way of telling who’s a terrorist or not. It’s a safety issue, she said.
But she added about refugees: “You’re not targeting individuals because our heart breaks for everyone in such as a horrible situation.”
She’s following the controversy surrounding refugee resettlement in Twin Falls, but not closely. “It’s more the whole global picture,” she said.
Adrian Arp – one of the group’s members – said his main concern is the lack of paperwork on the Syrian refugees entering the United States. “We have to take their word on it that they’re refugees.”
Syria is a failed state, Arp said, and there aren’t any “boots on the ground” to conduct security checks.
He’s concerned that ISIS is already using refugee programs to bring jihadists into the United States.
Twin Falls resident Shirley Ruhter was sitting at a table in the Fine Arts lobby waiting for the auditorium doors to open.
She said she wants “real facts” about the refugee program, including how much it costs the government and the security screening process.
Also, “the forum is pretty top heavy on CSI,” she said, and she was hoping for a chance to talk.
Brady Madson, who works at Canyon Ridge High School, came to show his support of the refugee program.
“We just need another face in the crowd to show (refugees) are welcome,” he said.
Madson said he wants to figure out how to help, whether that’s signing a petition or making a donation. And he wants to know how to counter the resistance.
Jessi Boyer carried a yellow legal pad and pen as she waited in line with her 5-year-old daughter.
Boyer is on the board for Magic Valley Refugee Advocates. She said she got involved out of a “sense of compassion” for refugees and “common sense.”
Boyer came to the forum to show her support of the refugee program. She was also hoping to get some hard data that “can back up the positive nature of the center.”
“I want the louder voice in our community,” she said, “to be the voice of compassion.”
Times-News Publisher Travis Quast asked the audience to leave feedback forms about what they thought of the forum.
After the forum, Arp told the Times-News the forum didn’t address security concerns about incoming refugees. When they’re interviewed, they could lie about their backgrounds, he said.
But audience member Dave Moore said he thought a lot of excellent information was presented. And the format allowed for a large number of questions to be considered, he said.
“I think they addressed some very hard issues,” he said. And although there’s not a 100 percent guarantee, he feels satisfied that everything is being done possible to ensure community safety.