City Council Says it Needs More Information about Refugee Group
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – The City Council on Monday agreed to have one of its own members liaison between the council and a grassroots organization that supports refugees in the area.
Councilman Greg Lanting will work with nonprofit Magic Valley Refugee Advocates to share information between the two groups.
Erika Willsey, a representative of MVRA, addressed the council and asked that it become involved with a community steering committee for the group. The council declined to vote on the matter until further information could be attained.
Members were concerned about misconstrued information in a letter of intent MVRA filed for Gateways to Growth Challenge, a program by Welcoming America and Partnership For a New American Economy that invites local entities such as governments, chambers of commerce and nonprofit groups to apply for matching grants to support their strategic planning processes. The letter said the city was already on board with the group after a Jan. 7 meeting in which only Mayor Shawn Barigar attended on behalf of the city.
Willsey said the letter was written hastily and the city should not have been listed as a supporter of the group before it had a chance to hear its proposal.
Lanting said he is not opposed to the council being a part of the steering committee, per se, but said more concise information was needed before the council proceeds. The other members agreed and Lanting was appointed liaison.
Willsey said MVRA wants to help refugees better integrate into the community, and that it already has received support from several area churches and businesses, including the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
Twin Falls accepts about 300 new refugees each year. Nearly all of them arrive through the CSI Refugee Center. Many of them work in local dairies, though many have skills that could be utilized in other professions.
Several citizens spoke during a public comment period at the council meeting about MVRA’s proposal, and all but one said they were against the city supporting the refugee program in Twin Falls. Citizens’ complaints ran the gamut of fears, from refugees taking away jobs to the increase of domestic violence and crime in the area.
Mayor Barigar several times had to remind visitors to stay on topic, that the issue was not so much about new refugees coming to town but about those who already are here and how they can best be integrated into the community.
“If you’re wondering where the city stands on the issue,” he said, “our strategic plan already states that we support our citizens” – no matter what color skin they may have or what their ethnicity.
Councilman Don Hall said he understands the refugee subject has become a controversial one, with people on both sides of the fence being just as passionate about their views as their opponents. He reminded the audience that as a council it is its job to listen to all sides of the issue and make the decision best for the city.
Lanting will meet with MVRA to gather and share information with the city, but he and other council members said they viewed the steering committee as one that should comprise many entities, including Twin Falls County and those in the Mini-Cassia area.