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Anticipating the Idaho Statehouse Sanctuary Debate

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The stage is set for the Idaho Statehouse debate over immigrants and refugees. As BW was going to press, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee was poised to host what is expected to be the most emotional hearing of the 2017 legislative session. House Bill 76, sponsored by Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell), is designed to discourage the formation of any sanctuary cities or counties in Idaho, threatening to cut off state general funds to any local entity that harbors unauthorized immigrants or refugees.

But even before his public hearing had begun Chaney was already complaining about being the target of name-calling due to his proposal, with Idahoans calling him "hateful, xenophobic, racist, un-Christian, anti-immigrant and "far more that wouldn't be printable."

A recently released 2017 Idaho Public Policy Survey, conducted by the School of Public Service at Boise State, revealed that a slim majority (51.1 percent) of those polled favored Idaho's refugee resettlement program, with a sizable minority (43.8 percent) opposing it. But when the same numbers are divided by demographics, the opinions vary widely. For instance, among Idahoans between the ages of 18 and 29, nearly 60 percent support resettlement and for those between the ages of 30 and 44, the numbers rise even further to nearly 62 percent. Idaho's geography also reveals a gap in opinions. Boise residents were the most supportive —57.9 percent—of refugee resettlement, while residents of northern Idaho showed the lowest levels of support—42.4 percent.

"I travel all across the state for my work, and I always make a point of listening to talk shows on Idaho radio stations" said Ellen Campfield Nelson, head of the Boise-based offices of Agnew Beck. "It's interesting and, quite frankly, shocking at what is being delivered as so-called factual news on this issue. It's also dispiriting that there is a whole network of information not based on fact, yet that has become the main source of information for a good many people."

While the pending public debate will trigger many opinions, including those not based on any facts, it will ultimately be up to legislators to have the final say on whether Idaho could be looked upon as a sanctuary against what experts on both side of the political divide deem to be the greatest refugee crisis in world history.

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