Main Street in downtown Twin Falls, Idaho, stretches three blocks, lined with thrift stores and shuttered storefronts. And yet the area’s industry is thriving. Ten miles away, Chobani operates one of the world’s largest yogurt-processing plants. Clif Bar recently opened a 300,000-square-foot bakery. The region’s more than 300 dairy farms make Idaho the nation’s third-greatest dairy producer, after California and Wisconsin. Statewide, unemployment sits at 3.6 percent, well below the national average of 4.7 percent.
According to the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, 85 to 90 percent of dairy workers are foreign-born, and since 1993, farmers have turned to the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center for labor. In 2016, Twin Falls, population 47,000, resettled more than 300 refugees, most from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also from Burma, Eritrea, Sudan, and Iraq. Because there is no public transportation and little street culture, they are seldom visible. They experience America in cheap apartments, roadhouse kitchens, laundry rooms, and dairy barns.**
LABOR’S INCONVENIENT TRUTH
“If we can save American lives, American jobs and American futures, together we can save America itself," President-elect Donald Trump said last fall in a speech in Phoenix, Arizona. Yet, Mr. Trump’s plan, which prioritizes the deportation of undocumented immigrants and suspension of refugees arriving from terror-prone regions, where most refugees come from, could undermine the very promises he has made to improve the economy.
Nowhere is this more the case than in Twin Falls, Idaho. Twin Falls, whose motto is "People Serving People" is a proudly conservative town polarized by immigration. Opponents of the town’s refugee resettlement program say refugees and immigrants threaten the town’s security, economy and culture. For advocates, national anti-immigrant agendas have distorted local realities. For farmers like in the third largest dairy producing region in the country, it’s simple - their livelihoods depends on foreign-born workers.
In 2016 African refugees (particularly the DRC), were the largest growing population according to the Refugee Processing Center, which has recorded all refugee arrivals since 2002. This photo story is a portrait of an American farm town from the perspectives of the daily lives of African refugees living and working in the dairy industry around Twin Falls. Their voices are vital, yet missing from the conversation concerning refugees and forced migration.Published in California Sunday Magazine: https://story.californiasunday.com/welcome-to-twin-falls