Sanctuary Boise

Our Refugee Roots

UPDATE 02/01/2017: The Boise City Council passed a resolution on January31, 2017 reaffirming Boise as a ‘Welcoming Community’ on a unanimous vote. The North End Neighborhood also passed a resolution naming the North End a “Welcoming Neighborhood” at their regular monthly meeting.

“Inspired by our city leaders, the North End Neighborhood Association proclaims our commitment to being a Welcoming Neighborhood. In that spirit of inclusiveness, the North End’s neighbors, nonprofits and businesses continually strive to create an environment where all people feel welcomed, safe and valued. We call on residents of the North End to become active participants in upholding these principles of community and inclusion through neighborhood involvement, events and committees.”

The complete text of the city council resolution can be found by clicking here.

Boise has long been a city of refuge for victims of famine and war. In 1865, during the Snake River Indian war, Shoshones and Bannocks took refuge above Fort Boise. Refugees from Austria-Hungry reached Boise a decade later, followed by Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans, and displaced migrants from every state.

More than a hundred years later, Boise was designated a Refugee Resettlement Community by the U.S. State Department and began to welcome a new group of immigrants. Many were escaping political, ethnic and religious oppression in their native countries. Boise was deemed an ideal city for refugee resettlement, providing a strong economy and employment market, affordable housing, easy transportation, abundant arts, cultural and recreational opportunities, and a safe and welcoming community.

Boise has a long standing as a “welcoming city”. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter highlighted Boise’s decades-long role as a host city to war refugees from around the world saying “many of the most loyal and authentic Boiseans weren’t born here or even in the U.S.”

Being Basque

gernika_frank_bethineThe mayor knows of which he speaks. His family is of Basque descent and has strong ties to Basque Country or Euskadi. He traveled to Euskadi with his family as a youngster during Franco’s regime and witnessed the oppression of the Basque people first hand as did members of my family. Yes, many Basque speaking people fled Spain out of fear, to avoid the Spanish draft and many stayed. Some were ‘Amerikanuak’, those who stayed until the Basque country achieved autonomy.

One of Mayor Bieter’s mentors was Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. The Democrat Beiter and Republican Cenarrusa worked together often on issues affecting the Basque Country. Pete’s career included being at odds with President Nixon on the oppression of Basques and forging a relationship with Idaho’s great Senator Frank Church (pictured above with his wife Bethine at the Basque Tree of Gernika’) to shed light on Franco’s repression that caused thousands of Basque nationals to flee Spain. For more about Pete, the Cenarrusa Center for Basque Culture which he and his wife Freda founded along with Boise State’s John Bieter, and his book ‘From Bizkaia to Boise’ – click here.

For more on the politics of Basques in Boise check out the Blue Review’s “Reclaiming the Flag:  Basque Nationalism at Home in Boise” by clicking here.

Boise’s embrace of refugees is emphasized in the video below.

‘Stronger Shines the Light Inside’ Project

Stronger Shines the Light Inside tells the stories of resettlement in Idaho. Over the course of more than a year, photographer Angie Smith has documented the process of refugees rebuilding their lives in not just an American but an Idahoan context.

“Land of sagebrush, cottonwood, and white pine, snow-capped mountains and potatoes, Idaho is well known for its salt-of-the-earth values, though less so for its cultural diversity. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to see a Congolese woman in brightly colored fabric waiting at a crosswalk, or to buy vegetables from Somali and Burmese vendors at the farmer’s market. Many of these new Americans came to Idaho as refugees seeking peace after long and arduous journeys.”

Mayor Dave Bieter’s understanding of the refugee’s journey is underscored in the following statement:

“Searching beyond difference to find likeness is the essence of understanding, empathy and tolerance. Stronger Shines the Light Inside shows the beauty of those things that make us all human and brings the fundamental needs of refuge, community and belonging into sharp focus. Angie Smith’s work helps us embrace the new, the different and the unknown by demonstrating to us just how alike we all are.”

Visit the website for more by clicking here.

Community Policing and Refugees

Laws we take for granted are foreign to many refugees, who may come from places where acts of violence, domestic abuse, theft and other actions are overlooked by authorities. Because of this, refugees may be reluctant to report victimization. Abusers exploit a refugee’s lack of knowledge about their legal rights.

To help refugees overcome these challenges, the Boise Police Refugee Liaison meets with refugee groups, individuals and families to understand their concerns. The officer regularly conducts classes to educate refugees on our legal processes and laws, including the commitment to human rights.

Fore more about the Boise Police Refugee Liaison program click here.


Resources and Actions

The new administration’s executive order banning Muslim immigration, including existing green card and visa holders, calls into question the status of immigrants from all backgrounds adding new, possibly unlawful restrictions. There are many in Boise and throughout Idaho and America who are protesting these actions with a loud, clear voice.

For more information about what you can do, visit the ACLU Idaho website by clicking here, and get involved in your community by joining one of the many new grassroots organizations that are popping up to resist Trump administration policies.

International Rescue Committee

“Refugees are vibrant, smart, caring, amazing human beings. They are resilient. They have survived violence and protracted waits in refugee camps. They bring with them all the creativity and learning that helped them survive extreme hardship that most of us are privileged enough to have never suffered. Refugees are Idahoans, like the rest of us, and are part of what makes Idaho a great place.”

IRC Boise Director Julianne Donnelly Tzul – International Rescue Committee Boise

Global Gardens

The goal of the the Global Gardens community garden program is to support refugee health through improved nutrition and increased physical activity, as well as to continue engaging our community partners. This program has over 200 participants, depending on the year, involves 9 community gardens and is always in high demand.

Program Coordinator Katie Painter – Global Gardens

Create Common Good

Create Common Good’s goal has been to build an empowerment model that could be used in any community globally serving those with barriers to employment, including refugees, that need the skills and confidence to find employment. They are a “passionate, business-minded organization with a dynamic, talented and rapidly growing team.”

CEO Tracy Hitchcock – Create Common Good




Leave a Reply