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Category: politics

Stephen Hartgen 01

Idaho public officials from the governor’s office on down to local city councils and county commissions were patting themselves on the back recently for “approving” the resettlement of more refugees in Idaho.

But the credit here goes to Pres. Donald Trump, whose revamping of the resettlement program across America opened the door for common-sense sideboards and guidelines. He said he would make such changes, and he has.

A bit of history is in order. Only a few years ago, in 2015 and 2016, the Magic Valley was torn with conflicting and angry perspectives on refugees. Pro-refugee supporters, including the news media, community liberals, some church congregations and partisan Democrats, welcomed the influx of refugees from where ever, including volatile Africa and the Middle East, with minimal vetting and no local input.

Others had legitimate concerns as ISIS Muslim immigrants found ways into America by manipulating a porous process. Obama federal authorities were winking at this, while Americans from California to Michigan to Idaho experienced wave after wave of poorly-vetted newcomers, and in some cases, violence and murders. Not to worry, said the liberal excusers, the terrorists just need more time to “assimilate.” 

In the Magic Valley, these concerns were dismissed by the newspaper as purely racist. An anti-refugee activist tried a petition campaign to close the CSI Refugee Center to stop the influx, but when that failed, he ran for a seat on the CSI Board. He didn’t win, but in the anonymity of the voting booth, citizens gave him over 47 percent of the vote, a clear signal that many people wanted changes.

Then, individual decisions brought substantive adjustments. First, both the anti-refugee activist and the preachy, lefty editor left the state. That alone reduced the pot-boiling heat down to a low simmer.

Second, Trump’s election in 2016 set the way for reduced overall refugee numbers, better vetting of applicants, and limits on refugees from war-torn countries. No more wink-and-admit policies of the Obama era. That’s the promise Trump ran on, won on and has pretty well delivered.

The Trump executive order in 2019 thus required states to affirmatively say they would not just accept, but actually affirmatively accept new refugees. (White House Executive Order, Sept. 26, 2019). That was a reversal of the we-know-what’s-best-for-you of the Obamas. The states, including Idaho, actually had to ask their local communities the same question: do you want a refugee program, yes or no? (Gov. Brad Little’s letter, Dec. 23.) 

Even with those sideboards, refugee resettlement in Idaho isn’t viewed favorably by everyone. Apart from a tiny list of rah-rah letters, local Facebook posts are decidedly more mixed. There are many Americans who legitimately ask if it is a good idea to bring people to this country from places where we are roundly hated and our values despised. New worldwide tensions and conflicts in 2020 surely won’t diminish those concerns.

Recognizing the community division, neither the Twin Falls council nor the county commission particularly wanted to be “on record” on this issue either, (Times-News, Dec.24 and Dec. 30), so they tossed the hot potato back and forth, with the commissioners seeking an additional “cover-your-own-rear” letter from local legislators for even more political vaccination.

In due course, we then heard from the usual righteous left, who implicitly told the community how they had “saved the city” from local bigotry by encouraging “diversity.” Nonsense. They routinely whine about lack of “local control” but duck when they’re specifically charged to exercise it.

But the issue was really a common-sense outcome by the Trump administration to require local governments to be in the inclusiveness game. The CSI Refugee Center will go forward, but with reduced numbers; local citizens have now some assurance that it is working within the sensible Trump guidelines.

In this, Trump has done the states and communities an enormous favor. Idahoans are a generally tolerant people, despite the frequent snarky put-downs of us by liberals and the transitory, here-now-gone-tomorrow media reps.

Folks should read the executive order (#13888) at www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/ It really is an amazing document, coming after years of we-know-best decrees from the imperial federal Obamas. In it, Trump says that “the state and the locality’s consent to the resettlement of refugees under the Program is taken into account to the maximum extent consistent with law.” Wow! A document which actually asserts a basic principle of participatory governance, the consent of the governed.

If refugees want to come here, they are welcome, if they avoid the “woe-is-me, you’re-all-racists” philosophy of some and adopt the work ethic and American values of their host communities. That’s called real assimilation, leaving aside the whining of identity politics, ethnic “silo-ing” and tribalism.

On balance, that is what has happened with wave after wave of foreign immigration going back many decades. And it is what is happening now in a safer, more secure America, thanks to Trump.

Rather than refugee quotas being imposed from Washington, local concerns and input are now part of the process. It was Trump’s policy changes and executive order which brought this change about, not the open-the-doors, let-‘em-all-in cries of “diversity” advocates. He won’t get the credit, but that’s the bottom line.

P.S. Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by 3 ½ to 1 in the 2016 election, 20,000 votes to 6,000 in Twin Falls County. That wasn’t by coincidence. He’ll do even better in 2020.

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 is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.