It’s interesting timing, that human rights and interfaith groups are launching a “welcome the stranger” ad campaign just as big immigration raids are hitting in the Magic Valley. The groups say the immigration debate, the tone of talk radio and other factors are making Idaho into a place that’s not as welcoming as it should be to newcomers, and they’re out to remind folks that welcoming strangers is both an American value and a central precept of many religions.
The Rev. Thomas Faucher of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise said his parish includes people from all over the world, some of whom came to Idaho as refugees. Just in the last few weeks he’s gained new parishioners from Burundi and Burma. “We become better by welcoming them,” Faucher said at a news conference today at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. “That’s precisely what happened to my ancestors when they came from France, and when they came from Ireland, and when they came from Canada.” Added BSU sociologist Robert McCarl, “Opening our doors to welcome newcomers is a central narrative in our American experience.”
Here’s the backdrop: U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported today that it has apprehended more than 100 illegal aliens in the Twin Falls area in the past week. And that’s just from busts at a bus station; the agency said it wasn’t involved in immigration raids targeting WinCo customers in Twin Falls and other sweeps in the area. “That is not us,” said spokesman Alex Harrington. Meanwhile, the Twin Falls Times-News reported today that local residents are complaining of officers stopping Hispanics at random and asking to see identification.
Antonina Robles, an Idaho Community Action Network member who came to this country 12 years ago speaking no English and is now a proud BSU grad, said, “I don’t want my neighbors, my family, my community members to be scared to go to Wal-Mart.”
The ad campaign is starting with bus bench ads in the Boise area and a billboard scheduled to go up between Burley and Jerome; backers hope to expand the campaign statewide. The ads, modeled after similar campaigns in Iowa and Tennessee, carry two messages: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” a quote from the Bible; and “Immigration is an American experience. Acceptance is an American value.” Here’s a link to my full story at spokesmanreview.com.