The electronic newsletter was sent out at taxpayer expense through a new service being offered to state lawmakers. The state is spending $17,200 on the service, which about 10 lawmakers have used so far.
Scott didn’t return calls requesting comment, nor did she say what exactly she wanted a special session of the Legislature to address since refugee resettlement is a federal program.
Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter, said Otter’s office has been receiving lots of calls expressing concern about Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. One suspected attacker in Paris may have had a false Syrian passport, though all the identified attackers so far have been European Union nationals. But Hanian said he wasn’t aware of the office receiving calls backing a special Idaho legislative session. Otter sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday calling for cutting off all resettlement of refugees in the U.S. until security procedures are reviewed.
Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, told a crowd of close to 60 in Boise, “Certainly we all want to be safe in this country – we want to be sure that anyone who enters is not posing a threat.” But he said refugees receive the most vetting and security screenings of any of the groups who enter the United States, which also include visitors, students, workers and immigrants. He distributed a two-page handout detailing the 14 security safeguard steps refugees must pass to qualify for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including multiple types of security clearances, fingerprinting, an in-person interview, medical screening, cultural orientation and more.
“This process has evolved over the course of 14 years” after the 9/11 attacks, Reeves said. “New background checks were implemented, and these have been expanded over the years. It is an incredibly lengthy process – it takes a year and a half to two years.” He added, “If it can be made stronger, I think that certainly should happen. … It’s really important that we do a thorough job of vetting people coming into this country.”
Reeves’ comments came at a quarterly public meeting on refugee resettlement in Idaho. Most of those who spoke at the meeting touted Idaho’s welcoming nature, and the commitment of its faith communities, volunteers and agencies to helping resettle refugees fleeing persecution.
Asked after the meeting about Scott’s newsletter, Reeves read through it. “It’s disturbing that this kind of opinion exists in our Legislature,” he said. “We hope that with good, accurate information and data that we can present a different perspective on refugees in our communities than what I’m seeing in this particular posting.”
Idaho receives about 1,000 refugees a year, Reeves said. Last year, 1,062 people came to Idaho as refugees; the largest group, about 26 percent, were from the Democratic Republic of Congo. There were 25 different countries of origin for Idaho refugees last year; the second-largest numbers were from Iraq, including people who served the U.S. government or armed forces as interpreters; Burma; and Afghanistan. Idaho received 35 refugees from Syria in the past six months, 20 of them children.
“I do hope that this controversy about Syrian refugees can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and that it becomes less of a political football than it has been,” Reeves said. “In the 30 years I’ve been involved in refugee work, I’ve never experienced this level of political interest in the program. It’s always enjoyed strong bipartisan support from Congress. It’s seen as a quintessentially American activity, to help people who are oppressed come to America. … It’s really been our national story.”
In a limited ruling, an Idaho judge has declared student fees charged by the West Ada School District unconstitutional. Russell Joki filed the case in October 2012, challenging fees he paid on behalf of three grandchildren, arguing they violated the Idaho Constitution, which requires the state to provide a free, common and thorough public school system.
Joki can now get a refund, but 4th District Judge Richard Greenwood stopped short of ordering the district to stop charging fees in the future; either side still could appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.
Political reporter Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at email@example.com or (208) 336-2854.
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