Refugee Resettlement In Bonner County:
Fact Or Fiction?
In today’s world of intrigue, deception, misdirection and fake news, it was no wonder that on August 16th, the Sandpoint Community Hall had a line waiting an hour ahead of time to attend a “training session” on refugee resettlement to be provided by Nick and Laura Armstrong, co-directors of the “Glocal Friends Program Resource Team” and sponsored by the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and “follow ~ a community.”
As I waited inside the hall for the doors to open, Nick Armstrong made a comment to me that they had never had such a crowd of people show up to find out about refugee resettlement. I responded to him that he should expect the building to be full shortly after the doors opened as he was in north Idaho now, not Boise. He responded that he must not be in Kansas either. He also asked if these people knew that this was a two hour program and I responded that the time was in the newspaper. The room filled quickly when the doors were opened shortly after 5:00 to let people in, complete a name tag and take a seat. The maximum capacity of the community hall is 150 and it was completely filled before the scheduled starting time of 5:30. Two Sandpoint PD officers would not let anyone else in unless someone left; the crowd left outside was considerable.
Laura Armstrong started off the program by speaking Indonesian, and then switched to English, welcoming the attendees. She reiterated a number of times that they were not there for refugee resettlement in Sandpoint, but rather that they were just “here for a good conversation.” She stated that this information is a training session and would cover a number of subjects, such as Refugee 101, cross culture orientation, self-sufficiency of the refugees, and how the refugees experience trauma and loss. People in the audience were trying to ask questions and were told that questions could be asked at the end of the presentation but that the questions had to be written down before they could be asked. This did not sit well with the audience as they wanted answers, but to no avail.
Nick Armstrong then spoke and quoted a lot of scripture, being selective on anything that would promote acceptance of refugees, strangers and foreigners. He asked the audience to not be fearful or suspicious of said people. He advised that 15,000 refugees have come to Idaho and he also stated that Christians are to “care sacrificially for refugees” and that we need to “face new realities.” He said that Syria is the main source of refugees and that the “vetting process is very effective.”
The Armstrongs avoided and/or ignored questions thrown out by the audience when they began talking about financial support for refugees. We were told that their plane fares are not free, but the refugees are provided with a “loan” which they are supposed to repay for their flights. The audience was told that there is “no free housing”, however, in the “Glocal Friends Handbook” there is information describing “Resettlement and Placement Funds” for a “hotel stay if an apartment or other housing is not readily available. Funds are provided for setting up an apartment or home which includes initial rent deposit, furniture, housing supplies, clothing, food (for the first couple of weeks until Food Stamps kick in.)” The handbook states that “any leftover money that was not used for the above goes to them on the 90th day after arrival and can be used to start a bank account.”
In addition, the refugees receive “TRA (Transitional Refugee Assistance) Funds.” The monthly allowance goes for: “monthly rent checks, utilities, phone and miscellaneous (whatever other needs they have, especially what food stamps does not cover.) Refugees are also provided with Medicaid, which lasts for up to 8 months unless they qualify for Social Security. Children will stay on Medicaid until they turn 19.”
According to the Armstrongs, the refugees receive employment help, such as resumes, interviews, applications, searches, etc. They are also taught English with extra tutoring for the women. The refugees are also provided mental health services, including treatment for PTSD and professional counseling.
Not mentioned by the Armstrongs, but included in the booklet are CBRS (Community Based Rehabilitation Services.) Also included in the booklet is the schooling for the elementary, junior and high school refugee children. After initial immunizations and TB tests, all children 18 or under can enroll in school, although they may remain in school until age 21. Students who do not speak English will be enrolled in English Language Learner (ELL) classes.
People in the audience asked that the Armstrongs address their questions, in particular referencing the rape of the 5 year old girl in Twin Falls, taking jobs away from American citizens, crime rates, Islamic vs. Christian refugees, ISIS and more. One of the organizers then told everyone that they needed to be respectful and reiterated that their questions would be addressed at the end of the presentation. One of the few liberals in attendance told the rest of the audience to “shut up and let them talk!” At this point, the tension in the room became even more palpable after one of the liberals asked one of the attendees why they were there if not to learn about the refugee resettlement process? Her response was “to know my enemy!”
The Armstrongs continued on by discussing “culture” but they had lost what was left of their audience. One of the organizers then stated that the rest of the program would not be finished and questions would be answered, but only if they had been written out beforehand. The first question was on the full capacity of the schools already? The response was that refugees were not going to be relocated to Sandpoint, so the question was a moot point. A question was asked on who takes care of the refugees when their assistance ends? The answer was that “resources” would be provided to them. A question on what the difference between refugees and immigrants were? Answer was that refugees leave their country because of persecution and were seeking asylum. Immigrants make application for admittance. It was also stated that most refugees are women and children.
It was apparent that the few questions selected had been reviewed beforehand as they were not controversial (a typical Delphi technique) to control the narrative, instead of the people in attendance being able to ask the questions previously ignored. The organizer then ended the program 45 minutes early and the chairs were immediately folded and put away as soon as people stood up making it quite apparent that no more discussion would be allowed or questions answered. I’m sure that the Armstrongs were anxious to get back to the Land of Oz.
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