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Idaho Conference Explores Refugee Experience

The Idaho Conference on Refugees is being held in Boise today as the country continues to debate Trump's immigration ban. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
The Idaho Conference on Refugees is being held in Boise today as the country continues to debate Trump's immigration ban. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
February 7, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – The annual Idaho Conference on Refugees is meeting in Boise today while the country at large continues to grapple with the Trump administration's immigration ban. The ban was temporarily blocked by a federal judge on Friday, but the wider conversation is raging on. The theme for this year's conference is "Stronger Together," and many of the workshops focus on building bridges between communities.

Janet Kaufman and her colleagues will be discussing their innovative youth camp called Under the Tent of Abraham. The camp brings together children of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Kaufman says the first year did a wonderful job of fostering understanding between the children.

"The children were so enthusiastic about the camp that they themselves asked if they could see each other over the school year, and not just at the camp," she said. "And so, that inspired us - the leadership - to develop a series of events over the course of the school year."

Kaufman says the children are meeting at the place of worship for each faith this school year. She hopes the camp can become a model for bringing diverse members of the community together.

Also presenting today are Nick Armstrong and his wife, Laura Armstrong, co-directors of Global Community Partners, a ministry in Boise. Armstrong says both sides tend to rely on stereotypes when it comes to the story of Muslims, and he is encouraged by the growing turnout to the conference every year.

"There is such a swelling of support that is starting to take place," he said. "There's so many people that are coming out of the woodwork and beginning to show that they're willing to get involved and willing to help change attitudes towards refugees."

The keynote speaker for the conference is Yasmine Mustafa, a refugee who came to Philadelphia as a young child during the Persian Gulf War. She'll talk about her experiences and eventual success as an entrepreneur in the tech industry. She'll also speak about a concept known as the "birth lottery."

"One of the ways I've been able to share my story with others is by explaining the concept of the birth lottery, about how no one chooses where they're born, they can't control it, they don't influence it," said Mustafa. "And what this ban does is it punishes them for something they had no control over."

Since 1980, there have been approximately 3 million refugees that have been resettled in the United States. according to the UN Refugee Agency. In that time, not one refugee has taken the life of an American in an act of terrorism. The conservative Cato Institute estimates that the likelihood of an individual American being killed in an act of terrorism committed by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion a year. The odds of an individual American being killed in an act of terrorism committed by a tourist are one out of about 1,050,000, about the same likelihood of being killed by lightening.

The vetting system for refugees coming to America is the most stringent of any other category of people coming into the United states. The screening takes a minimum of 18 to 24 months with biometric and biographical data along and a series of stringent interviews crossed checked by five US agencies: The Department of Homeland Security, FBI, The National Counterterrorism Center, The State Department and Department of Defense.

According to Nick Armstrong, the numbers show that the current system is working, "When you consider the rich contributions that refugees have made to our country throughout its entire history and the rich history of being a country that gives refuge to those who are fleeing brutal persecution, isn’t welcoming the most vulnerable people on the planet at the time of the worst global refugee crisis since World War II the right thing to do?"

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID