This week, Idaho Governor Brad Little and the two counties in the state in which refugee resettlement occurs sent letters to the Trump administration affirming their support for resettlement to continue locally.
Twin Falls County, which is home to the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center, and Ada County, which has the International Rescue Committee and the Agency for New Americans, wrote letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in accordance with an executive order signed by President Trump in September.
The order requires state and local governments to give written consent by January 21 in order for resettlement to continue there.
“State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available,” the order stated.
The announcement came around the time when President Trump set the cap of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. during the 2020 fiscal year at 18,000 — the lowest since the modern iteration of the program began in 1980. In fiscal year 2019, 562 refugees were resettled in Idaho, compared to 1,115 in fiscal year 2016.
Since September, at least 35 governors have written letters of consent. That includes Utah Gov. Gary Herbert who in October wrote to President Trump asking for more refugees to be resettled in the state. Gov. Little, in his letters to Secretary Pompeo, supported the determinations of Ada and Twin Falls Counties.
“I support the decision of county government on this matter,” he wrote.
Twin Falls County submitted a letter of consent, but the county commissioners expressed frustration over the lack of guidance on which local government entities were required to weigh in on the matter. They said the City of Twin Falls, not the county, has historically been the government body that has handled refugee issues.
And although the City of Twin Falls wrote a letter backing the continuation of refugee resettlement the previous week, the county’s letter is the one that has been deemed pertinent to the executive order. Therefore, the commissioners viewed their note as relaying the city’s support for the program.
“Because this new process was forced on us with little warning,” the Twin Falls County Commissioners wrote to Secretary Pompeo, “we have proceeded today to timely accommodate and preserve the legitimate interests of the City of Twin Falls.”
Tara Wolfson, the Director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, said an ongoing lawsuit filed by three national resettlement agencies, in part, aims to sort out that jurisdiction question. It argues the executive order violates federal law, which gives the agencies, not local governments, the authority to determine where refugees are placed.
Still, Wolfson said the letters sent by Idaho officials are “heartening.”
“I think it’s really clear that Idahoans support their refugee neighbors, as well as leadership in our cities and counties, so we’re really happy about that,” Wolfson said.
Wolfson said she has seen this process as an opportunity for the state’s refugee office to strengthen relationships with local and state government officials regarding refugee resettlement issues.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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