President Obama’s call Thursday for corporate America to hire more foreign refugees drew a commitment from one company that has already given a large share of its American jobs to migrants from the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world.
Chobani, owned by a Turkish Muslim immigrant, has filled 30 percent of its 600 positions at the world’s largest Yogurt plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, with refugees resettled in America through a U.S. State Department program carried out in cooperation with the United Nations.
Now, in connection with Obama’s plea for more corporate help, the company has pledged to boost the number of refugees on its payroll even higher, according to a report Thursday by Bloomberg News.
This comes at a time when Twin Falls is embroiled in a firestorm of controversy involving an alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old special-needs girl by refugee boys from Sudan and Iraq. The city’s mayor, Shawn Barigar, called for calm in the community and lectured his residents at a city council meeting earlier this week that they should not a spread a “false narrative” about the case that he accused Internet bloggers and others of creating.
WND has learned that Barigar was instrumental in recruiting Chobani to Twin Falls back in 2011, and he now plays a dual role of elected leader and president/CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce. Barigar, a Democrat, has been in leadership roles with the Chamber for 11 years. During that time he has also served two stints on the city council, with a gap between January 2008 and January 2012 in which he was not part of the city government. It was during that gap, but while he was running for office in 2011, that he was busy working to lure Chobani to Twin Falls.
“I was a member of the recruitment team that recruited Chobani to Twin Falls in 2011,” Barigar told WND in a phone interview Thursday. Barigar was elected to the City Council in November of 2011 and took office in January 2012. He’d already served a previous term on the council from 2004 through 2007. Barigar, whom the council selected as mayor in January, said he does not see his dual roles of mayor and Chamber CEO as potentially a conflict of interests.
“I do not see it as a conflict of interest nor have the voters who elected me three times to the city council,” he said. “The mayor is selected every two years by the council, so I was not the mayor during the Chobani recruitment nor was I on the council. “We did the ground breaking in December 2011,” he added, which would have been after he was elected in November but just before he officially took office in January.
Thursday’s report by Bloomberg said Goldman Sachs, United Parcel Service, HP Inc., MasterCard Inc., IBM and Google have also pledged to provide either jobs, cash aid or free services to refugees, about 85,000 of which will distributed into more than 190 cities and towns across the U.S. this year by the State Department.
The State Department works through nine federal resettlement contractors that includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Luther Immigration and Refugee Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Church World Services. World Relief (an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals), the International Rescue Committee, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the Ethiopian Community Development Council. These volunteer agencies or VOLAGs have between 50 percent and 95 percent of their budgets funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars and are paid by the head for every refugee they resettle in the U.S.
A quick search of the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center database shows more than 2,340 refugees from more than a dozen countries have been resettled in Twin Falls since January 2002. Since that time, 161 refugees have come from Sudan, 377 from Iraq, 280 from Iran, 241 from Russia, 70 from Afghanistan, 642 from Bhutan, 68 from Bosnia, 54 from Burundi, 146 from Democratic Republic of Congo, 238 from Eritrea, 32 from Azerbaijan, and 21 from Ethiopia.
Twin Falls town is one of more than a dozen areas around the country that is experiencing major pushback against the resettlement of refugees, especially from hotbeds of jihadist activity such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. So-called “pockets of resistance” have organized in Amarillo, Texas; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; in parts of Michigan, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Like Barigar in Twin Falls, the mayor of Boise, Idaho, David Bieter, has also been a big supporter of refugees, including Syrian refugees. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Boise has received 59 Syrian refugees, according to the federal refugee database. Beiter has also gone on record as a supporter of President Obama’s welcoming initiative for immigrants and refugees, writing in a blog post last year that, for his city, “Diversity isn’t a buzzword. It’s our birthright.” That post has since been scrubbed from the city’s website.
The U.S. State Department has shipped more than 12,000 refugees directly from the Third World to Idaho since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, most of them landing in either Boise or Twin Falls. Nearly half have come from some of the world’s nastiest jihadist hot zones, including Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Pakistan, according to the federal refugee database.
Last October, hundreds of residents rallied against the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center’s continued resettlement plans. But despite growing protests by local residents against the refugee arrivals, the Twin Falls area can count on being a prime spot for refugees for years to come, thanks to Chobani. Chobani founder and chairman Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish Muslim and immigrant from Turkey, made a pitch for more refugees to be hired by corporate America at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, as previously reported by WND.
At Davos, he called on other CEOs to join his campaign to throw corporate cash, lobbying initiatives, services and jobs to refugees. Six companies immediately took him up on the idea: Ikea, MasterCard, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Western Union and UPS all agreed at that point to hire more refugees or provide free services to them.
Now Obama is doubling down on those efforts, calling on businesses to do their part in helping resettle the expanded number of refugees flowing into the U.S. Obama has called for an increase in the total number of refugees resettled in the U.S. to 100,000 in fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1. This up from 85,000 in 2016 and 70,000 in 2015. The GOP-controlled Congress has fully funded his expansion of the program. Included in that package is 10,000 Syrian refugees. That plan elicited letters to the Obama administration from more than two dozen mostly Republican governors, including Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho, saying they did not want Syrian refugees coming to their states. Obama ignored the governors’ concerns about vetting and national security and in fact issued a decree to speed up the resettlements from Syria and reduce the time spent on vetting from 18 to 23 months down to as little as three months.
Ulukaya’s efforts appear spurred by his own cultural background as a Kurdish Muslim and by a personal visit to the refugee camps in Turkey and Greece. Ulukaya has told several media outlets that he was horrified by the human suffering he witnessed. But he said the fact that he shares a cultural affinity with many of the refugees – he grew up near the Syrian border in Turkey, before moving to the U.S. as a student – made an even bigger impact. Ulukaya personally made a $2 million donation last year to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees.
What about Americans who need jobs?
Refugees account for about 30 percent of the total workforce at Ulukaya’s yogurt plants. That means about 600 of Chobani’s 2,000 employees in the U.S. are foreign refugees. “There are 11 or 12 languages spoken in our factories,” Ulukaya told Financial Times. “We have translators 24 hours a day.” Refugee watchdog Ann Corcoran said the strategy being pushed by corporate America is done in the name of compassion but actually leaves jobless American citizens and veterans further behind.
“Take UPS, for example. Almost every county has a UPS depot, and it’s a really nice job for people who are low skilled, loading the trucks,” said Corcoran, author of the blog Refugee Resettlement Watch. “It’s kind of a job that people are willing to do. You don’t have to ship people here from the Third World to fill those jobs.”