TWIN FALLS — Flanked by gun-toting men in flak jackets, close to 200 people marched to the College of Southern Idaho to protest the school’s refugee placement center on Sunday afternoon. The march was organized by the Three Percent of Idaho, one of a few groups that have recently been vocal about shutting down CSI’s refugee center.
“We’re not against refugees or helping people,” said Brandon Curtiss, the president of the Three Percent. “However there have been issues, like the Boise bomber who was placed through the program, that shows that there are problems with the program.”
The protest was not only against the refugee center at CSI, but also to advocate for H.R. 3314 — the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act of 2015.
The Act would suspend the admission of refugees until Congress passes a joint resolution that gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to admit refugees and requires the Government Accountability Office to submit a report to Congress on refugees who receive any government assistance.
“We’re not out here just yelling through a bull horn,” said Curtiss.
In September, President Obama announced that the U.S. would take in 10,000 refugees over the next year. In comparison, Germany is preparing to take 800,000 Syrian refugees over the next year and France has agreed to take in 24,000, according to CNN.
It’s been predicted that Idaho will see an influx of 300 Syrian refugees, many of whom would be taken in by CSI’s refugee center and placed in communities across the state.
In October, the center in Twin Falls is expecting 22 refugees. They’ll come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea, but none from Syria, according to Zeze Rwasama, the director of CSI’s refugee center.
Syria was plunged into civil war after protests — spurred by 2011’s Arab Spring— turned violent. According to the New York Times, more than 200,000 Syrians have died since the start of the war. The recent emergence of groups like ISIS has further complicated the situation and escalated the violence.
The UN estimated that at least 9 million men, women and children have left Syria to escape the violence. Between January and August of this year over 350,000 refugees crossed into Europe. Many arrived in boats on the Mediterranean coast, a journey has killed thousands in the last year, according to the BBC.
Sunday’s protesters insisted that they were not anti-refugee, but that they had concerns over the government’s ability to properly vet refugees and feel that the money spent on refugee programs could be better used at home.
“The current refugee program has a lot of momentum, but it is momentum based off false information,” said Chris McIntire, the public relations officer for the Three Percent. “There has been an increase of violence in refugees in Europe and we don’t want that happening here. Another issue is the tax dollars they use. There are veterans and students here that need assistance and this is tax dollars being shifted away from them.”
Curtiss admitted that the group’s stance is unpopular. It’s so unpopular that the Three Percent brought their own security team to Sunday’s event. Men in flak jackets walked with the protesters. And at least one car with more armed and armored men followed the protest.
“We received very credible threats from the opposition,” said Curtiss. “This isn’t meant to be intimidating and we have a responsibility to protect our members. And these guys are dressed down. Usually we have them in full body armor with rifles. This is a very public-friendly uniform.”
Police and campus security were also on sight, across the street at the south entrance of the CSI campus. However the campus was almost deserted and no counter protest was staged.
In interviews with ABC News in February government, officials did express their concern about the vetting of refugees. However the U.S. has an incredibly rigorous, and slow, refugee application process that draws on information from multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, according to ABC News. As far as violence is concerned, according to the BBC, refugees have mostly been the victims of recently reported violence in Europe.