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Businesses, Idahoans Urge State Dept. to Preserve Refugee Programs

Foreign-born workers make up 90 percent of workers at dairies in Idaho. (Idaho Office for Refugees)
Foreign-born workers make up 90 percent of workers at dairies in Idaho. (Idaho Office for Refugees)
September 12, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – As the Trump administration reduces the number of refugees allowed into the United States, Idahoans and businesses are signing a letter urging U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to preserve the state's resettlement programs.

In fiscal year 2016, Idaho accepted about 1,000 individuals. The number dropped to about 600 in 2017 and, as this fiscal year winds down, the number is fewer than 350.

Director Tara Wolfson at the Idaho Office for Refugees thinks businesses can benefit from more people coming into the state.

"It's really important to note, with our state's unemployment rate of less than 3 percent, really businesses depend on labor force, and new people to the state also bring new workers."

Idaho Dairymen's Association is among the business interests that have signed the letter defending the state's resettlement programs and refugees, noting that 90 percent of jobs at dairies in the state are filled by foreign-born laborers. Dairy makes up about one-seventh of the state's economy.

The letter will be sent to Pompeo on Friday.

Wolfson listed three programs that provide resettlement. They are the Agency for New Americans and International Rescue Committee in Boise, and the College of Southern Idaho's CSI Refugee Center in Twin Falls – all of which help newly arrived individuals get on their feet and navigate the nuances of such events as job interviews.

She described the Gem State as having a rich history of accepting refugees.

"Idaho has been a place that has resettled refugees since 1975," she added. "They're a critical part of the fabric of many of our communities and they contribute to our economy, culture and the character of our state."

Wolfson said refugees have been successful at resettling in the state. Highly skilled refugees who reestablish their professional careers contribute $1.8 million a year to Idaho's economy.

In addition, she said, 85 percent of refugee cases are closed within a year because individuals and families have gained self-sufficiency.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID