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Setting the stage: A recap of the history behind Citizens for the St. Croix Valley and Hudson Inclusion Alliance

Hudson, Wisconsin. File photo

As the final months of 2016 faded to days, the questions surrounding whether Hudson should welcome 21 Syrian refugees were all but irrelevant.

In October 2016, St. Patrick Parish in Hudson was asked by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — one of several organizations that helps the federal government resettle refugees — to serve as the main resource for five Syrian refugee families.

RELATED: A growing divide: As Hudson discusses inclusion, 'Citizens' flagged as hate group

At the time, St. Patrick Church Trustee Claire Zajac, who worked on the resettlement plan, said they heard from many in the community who welcomed the opportunity to bring the refugee families to the area.

Others, however, didn’t share the same sentiment.

“We've heard from people that, yes these people need help, but it's not us," Zajac said in early January 2017, describing the situation as a “not in my backyard” scenario.

Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, who represents Wisconsin’s 7th District, wrote letters to LSS, President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump that questioned the government’s process for evaluating these families before they entered the country.

“While I am proud our state has accepted many refugees with open hearts and arms, I am concerned about the adequacy of the security vetting standards used by the Obama Administration to ensure that refugees from places with high threats of terrorism — such as Syria — do not pose a risk to the United States,” Duffy wrote to President-Elect Trump in a letter dated Dec. 21, 2016.

Ultimately, the case was transferred to Lutheran Social Services, which made the decision in December that year to settle the families in Milwaukee, citing necessary medical facilities for the family. By that time, the community learned 26 — not 21 — individuals were slated for resettlement.

Mary Flynn, Program Supervisor at Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, said she was a little surprised when her organization was asked to step in midway through the process.

“This was an unusual request,” Flynn said.

Due to the distance from an LSS resettlement agency, Flynn said the case was considered a remote placement, which are rare. In her eight years of experience with refugee resettlements in Wisconsin, she has been a part of three.

Flynn said their Twin Cities agency wasn’t an option because the case was registered in Wisconsin.

However, the conversation — and the controversy — didn’t dissipate as the 26 individuals previously slated for Wisconsin’s western border began the process of settling roughly 300 miles to the southeast.

Darla Meyers, one of the members of Citizens for the St. Croix Valley, said it was during the resettlement discussion that the group began to find its footing.

At the January 2017 St. Croix County Board meeting, in the midst of the community’s refugee discussion, County Board Supervisor Roy Sjoberg said he wanted to have a conversation about being fair and open to refugees and immigrants.

“While I’m not going to propose that on the agenda,” Sjoberg said, “there are certain things called safe sanctuary cities.”

Later that month, during public comment at a county Administration Committee meeting, of which Sjoberg was chair, Meyers, Dianne Joachim, and others continued to find their voice.

“When I heard this rumor I thought someone was playing a joke on me. I couldn’t believe that you’d want to bring that element into this community,” said Hudson resident Dick Pearson.

Others were more direct.

“If you want to represent the people of Syria or Jordan or any other middle east country, you go run for office over there, because that stuff is not going to fly here,” said Mike Krsiean, who lives in the Town of St. Joe. “And there will be repercussions. You see 10 people sitting here. I imagine most of these seats are vacant. We got this group together in one day. Keep pushing this and it’s going to grow.”

And it has.

At the end of February 2017 a post appeared on the Citizens 4 St. Croix Valley Facebook page with pictures of a history project from Hudson Middle School.

“Islam, Sharia, Jihad all being taught in a Hudson’s children’s school,” the post read in part.

In an email to the Star-Observer, Joachim vehemently denied the group had anything to do with the post, and stressed the group did not make any allegation to the school regarding its teaching of any subject.

The district received enough inquiries about the rumors that it released an official response.

“The Hudson School District does not endorse nor condone the instruction of Sharia law,” the message stated. “There are no School District approved courses or school sponsored activities within the Hudson School District that are intended to convert, entice or encourage students to join Islam or any other religious faith.”

A few weeks after the controversy, the district launched a review of its curriculum, which turned up suggestions such as requiring teachers to share course syllabi with parents and notifying parents before a potentially controversial topic in class along with the option for parents to have their children opt-out of the lesson.

Following the review, the district has already moved four items from curriculum, including the middle school world history project that sparked the outcry.

In November 2017, the Hudson School District announced the implementation of Build Your Own Curriculum, an online portal which provides community members access to course curricula, as well as other tools for teachers and students.

After opposing an inclusion resolution brought before the Hudson City Council last fall — which was ultimately deemed by city attorney Catherine Munkittrick to have potential legal issues due to the wording — members of the Citizens group successfully lobbied the council to join the American City County Exchange in response to the council’s decision to join the National League of Cities.

According to sourcewatch.org, ACCE, along with its sister organization American Legislative Exchange Council, are buoyed largely by funding from right-wing groups, including the Koch brothers.

At the beginning of May, the group hosted an event at the Hudson House Hotel featuring a self-proclaimed anti-Islam speaker Anni Cyrus, which drew a crowd of more than a hundred people.

At a February council meeting, O’Connor took exception to comments made by Bol during discussion of whether the city should join the American City County Exchange.

He questioned whether Bol was suggesting the city had diversity issues.

“I don’t think we’re struggling with that personally,” the mayor said when Bol referenced the rainbow flags ripped down the previous week. “I don’t like people saying that about our community.”

O’Connor said he experienced vandalism in his neighborhood as well — the entrance sign was spray painted and he lost a couple yard signs.

“We’re going to have some vandalism,” he said, adding every community is going to have some people who are bigoted.

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