SANDPOINT — A sustained lack of basic civility brought an abrupt end Wednesday to a presentation aimed at informing the public how refugee resettlement works in Idaho and the United States.
From the moment the meeting at Community Hall commenced, Nick and Laura Armstrong of Boise faced a tough room.
“I am advocating understanding,” Laura Armstrong tried to explain at one point.
A good portion of the capacity crowd, however, was having none of it.
Refugee resettlement foes groaned, scoffed, talked over, shouted and laughed derisively at the Armstrongs. When audience members who were genuinely curious about resettlement programs tried to get opponents to quiet down so the presentation could go on, they, too, were shouted down.
Nevertheless, the Armstrongs pressed ahead. They pointed out that the Bible is replete with people who were refugees, including Jesus. There are also cited repeated passages referring to God’s faithfulness and concern for “aliens” and “strangers.”
The Armstrong cited United Nations figures which hold that there are over 65.6 million forcibly displaced people in the world, which works out to be about one in every 113 people on the planet.
They also sought to differentiate immigration from peoples displaced from their homes simply because of their race, religion, nationality, identified social group or political beliefs.
Civil war and regional strife in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan have forced millions to flee their homes in search of safety.
“We are facing one the largest refugee crises that we haven’t seen since World War II,” Laura Armstrong said.
Many refugees wind up in host countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon. Those that make it to the U.S. are not handed free plane tickets nor are they given unlimited financial support from the government, the Armstrongs said.
In 2016, 96,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. and 766 them were found homes in Idaho. Nick Armstrong said inbound refugees are scrutinized more thoroughly than immigrants who cross into America.
“The vetting process has been very effective,” Nick Armstrong said.
“You’re a liar!” a man in the audience shot back.
When Nick Armstrong explained that refugees contribute to an economy instead of placing a drag on it, resettlement foes didn’t believe it.
Many of the foes of refugee resettlement viewed the presentation as a foot in the door to bring displaced people into Bonner County.
“We don’t want ‘em!” a woman shouted angrily.
The Armstrongs and the meeting’s hosts — the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and a group called “follow ~ a community” — emphasized that there was no plan to bring refugees here, but opponents were dubious of those declarations.
The Armstrongs and the meeting’s hosts attempted to conduct a question-and-answer session on resettlement after the presentation, but only made it several questions in when it became clear productive discussion remained elusive.