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Hartgen: Hard-righters will try to make refugees the next political issue
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A Conservative Perspective

Hartgen: Hard-righters will try to make refugees the next political issue

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Ever opportunistic to find issues with which to bash Gov. Brad Little and traditional, conservative Republicans, far-rightists in Idaho are already trying to link him personally to the potential resettling of Afghan refugees in Boise and Twin Falls.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is running against Little in the May primary, showed this card in a recent newsletter. She accuses Little of not being “hell no” enough and blaming him for joining more than 30 other states in indicating Idaho would consider accepting some refugees from this war-torn semi-nation.

As is usual, the rightists try to frame the issue in the most negative terms. They failed to force a special session of the Legislature (IdahoPress, 9/16) and are now actively looking about for other clubs with which to beat up on so-called RINOs, despite falling way short of the reconvene attempt.

Approximately 120,000 Afghan refugees were spirited out of Kabul in late August. Many are likely to be given permanent United States residency. It’s fair question as to how these new arrivals would be vetted, but to the rightists, they’re already tarred as Middle Easterners and thus are presumptively would-be terrorists. Plus, they’re of different ethnicity, faith and language and are thus immediately suspect to conspiratorial minds of the ignorant and the bigoted.

Idaho is slated to receive about 400 refugees, some of which would likely come to the Twin Falls area. Gov. Little recently made it clear that that Idaho won’t loosen vetting standards, despite the urgency of resettlement. (IdahoPress, 9/15). But that’s apparently not enough for the hotheads.

They got an endorsement of sorts with the flames of nativism and outright prejudice from former Pres. Donald Trump last week, who said he was “absolutely” certain that there were loopholes in the vetting process through which terrorists could enter the country. He didn’t offer any proof that this was happening; it was just speculation, as “The Donald” is wont to do. (Fox, 9/14).

But the rightists heard Trump’s dog whistle loud and clear. McGeachin thinks Little should say “No, Idaho will not participate in the fallout from Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.” (McGeachin Newsletter, 9/14) Why wait for facts when you’ve got your own biases?

To Trump’s credit, while president, he got immigration officials to listen to the concerns of local communities, and to put in place protocols for state and local community acceptance of new arrivals. Those protocols have since been abbreviated by the Biden administration which is now actively seeking locations for refugees. The two sites in Idaho – Boise and Twin Falls — are among 139 sites nationally being considered.

In 2015, under Pres. Barack Obama, Idaho took refugees from another Mid-East country, Syria. There were loud local protests in Twin Falls but few Syrians actually came here. Idaho was nonetheless divided sharply between “hell no” opponents and the “take ‘em all” faction of Democrats and some church congregations. After the Trump election, clearer protocols gave local communities real input into the process.

Afghanistan’s people may well be different than the common impression of Middle Eastern nations. The country has a substantial number of educated and hard-working citizens, many of whom supported the United States in our 20-year-war in that country. It is this group of translators, interpreters, scientists, health care workers and engineers which forms the core of the refugee group.

As a group, they seem more likely to succeed here than the hordes streaming across the Biden non-border, which had more than 209,000 illegal entrants in August alone, one-third more than in August of last year. (CBSNews, 9/16.)

Sure, we need good vetting but that hasn’t happened under the Biden administration with respect to the southern border with Mexico and Central America. The fact is people are desperate to get out of the hellholes of their former countries and they see the United States as a true city on the hill that would mostly welcome them. (WSJ, 9/22).

Idaho, like many other states, was settled by immigrants, in some cases barely a century ago. The difference is at those early immigrants were predominantly of European origin and usually of Christian faith. Today’s immigrants don’t reflect that same profile and are thus “fair game” to the hysterical claims of nativists and bigots. Recent hothead postings on social media single out this refugee issue.

It would be premature for Idaho or any other state to say “let them all in” but it’s not premature to consider resettling some of the Afghan refugees here. Everyone knows Idaho needs hard-working and talented individuals in our workforce.

These are not the refugees from a teeming shore, but people who would add to our workforce and our state’s growth in mostly positive ways. In that regard they’re no different than the German and Scandinavian settlers of earlier generations. Recognizing the potential value of these refugees, a number of large employers such as Chobani, Amazon and UPS recently announced they would do what they could to facilitate such new arrivals.

“The moment a refugee gets a job, it’s the moment they stop being a refugee,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani, himself a Mid-East immigrant. “It’s the moment they can stand on their own two feet; it’s the moment they can make new friends; it’s the moment they can start a new life,” (TN, 9/21).

As with other issues, Gov. Little is showing a measured, principled response to this emerging challenge. That alone will draw him further enmity of the prejudiced rightists. They’re just looking for another group to disparage.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at


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