For two years now, no issue has received more headlines or created more tension in the Magic Valley than debate over refugee resettlement and the role immigrants and others play in our community. It’s important, to be sure, because the dialogue is shaping our community ethos as we grow into a new economy and collective identity.
What we do now will create the Twin Falls for our children and grandchildren. We’re building a New West. But what does that mean, and who gets to decide?
For far too long, we’ve allowed outside elements — particularly people and groups from the far-right who’d probably never heard of Twin Falls two years ago, let alone given a rip about what happens here — to shape that narrative.
We’re at a turning point, and Twin Falls is finally fighting back. For the first time in two years, the story isn’t about what’s wrong in Twin Falls. It’s about what’s right.
Let’s take stock:
Fawnbrook: The sexual assault case of a 5-year-old girl in the Fawnbrook Apartments in June has finally been resolved — with felony convictions. Inaccurate reports about the incident were truly “fake news” before anyone had ever heard the term. Conspiracy websites fueled cockamamie accusations that local officials (and this newspaper) were covering up the crime. Refugee opponents issued a clarion call for justice for the victim. They got it, because the system worked like it’s supposed to and police and prosecutors kept their cool.
Colley: Local shock-jock Bill Colley has poured a lot of gas on the refugee fire with inflammatory rhetoric on his NewsRadio 1310 show. But earlier this month, he wrote a column for this newspaper condemning the extreme elements in the local Republican Party, particularly what he called “ the Hayden Lake goose-stepping crowd … being revived in Twin Falls” who don’t represent the libertarian-minded conservatism that’s long been the cornerstone of Twin Falls politics. He’s right: Republicans here are fair-minded conservatives, not loony militant nuts. It’s about time somebody in the party stepped forward and said so instead of empowering the party’s more radical elements.
The New York Times: National media have been almost as interested in the local refugee debate as Magic Valley residents, with major mainstream outlets filing story after story about our local turmoil. Earlier this month, the New York Times took a different approach: It took a deep look at our economy. Turns out, the story concluded, Twin Falls is the posterchild for a rural region doing things right. That’s the kind of press that thrills local economic development leaders who prefer our success story — not infighting about refugees — to be at the top of a Google search for workers or companies considering our community.
State of the City: A little more than two weeks ago, Mayor Shawn Barigar delivered the annual State of the City address and didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room. Twin Falls, he said, has “found ourselves as a community painted with a brush by artists who are not in Twin Falls.” And he planned to do something about it. In an impressive speech, the mayor got straight to the heart of the matter, tracking our collective mettle over the generations up to the present day. Throughout our history, we’ve always been a community that welcomed others and stepped up to support our neighbors, regardless of their creeds or beliefs. It truly was a remarkable moment, the first time since the refugee debate began that a local public official or business leader was so explicit about reclaiming our story.
Chobani: What a month for the yogurt company. First, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya appeared on “60 Minutes” to echo many of the mayor’s sentiments. Days later, Ulukaya was named to TIME’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. And then just days after that, the company filed a defamation suit against slime bag and conspiracy peddler Alex Jones and his InfoWars website, one of the chief hawkers of fake news surrounding the Fawnbrook incident and refugee resettlement in the Magic Valley. The gloves are finally off, and the truth is on Chobani’s side.
Welcoming City: Perhaps sensing the change in the air, the Twin Falls City Council is finally doing something proactive in this debate, unanimously voting to pursue a resolution stating that Twin Falls is a welcoming community. Sure, perhaps it’s just a symbolic gesture – no, the resolution doesn’t mean we’re a sanctuary city – but at long last the city is no longer passively standing by and praying this all goes away before they have to get involved. It’s about time the city drew a line in the sand and stopped trying to straddle the fence. It’s OK for our elected leaders to say that hate and bigotry have no place here – in fact, as community leaders, it’s their responsibility.
Despite this month’s progress, this battle is far from over. Now is the time for resolve, to build on this month’s momentum and finally reclaim our right to define ourselves. We’ll be extremely disappointed if the Welcoming City resolution stalls, or if Republican leaders don’t continue to call out extremists when they see them. Or if business leaders suddenly back down. The truth is on their side — keep it going.
It’s our moment. Now, let’s seize it.