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‘We love this place’: Why these US immigrants say living in eastern Idaho is a blessing


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IDAHO FALLS – Since coming to the U.S. and making eastern Idaho their permanent home, Marco and Flaminia Assirelli couldn’t be happier with how they’ve been treated by members of the community.

The Italian immigrants moved to Idaho Falls from Rome in 2019 to establish a North American branch for an international company he was affiliated with called Sensor Medica, which specializes in custom-made orthotics to correct biomechanical foot issues.

Marco has since stepped away from that position to open an authentic Italian restaurant with his wife at 385 River Parkway called Mama Fla. Since opening in September, Marco tells it’s really taken off and become a place where customers enjoy dining.

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Looking back at everything that’s happened since the first day they arrived in town, Marco says he’s “astonished.”

“Everybody wanted to know us, everybody wanted to have us (as guests) at their house and they have been so friendly, so helpful in teaching us the rules and a way of living that is a little different,” he says.

As of 2018, the American Immigration Council reports immigrants make up 6% of Idaho’s population. The top countries of origin for Idaho immigrants are Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, China and Germany.

Despite the language barrier and a lifetime spent in a city with millions of people, the Assirellis’ say they enjoy living in a rural area where traffic and parking is not nearly as much of a challenge.

Though some have experienced unemployment and other obstacles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flaminia points out the ability to get a job or a business loan in the U.S., along with the ability to make money, is far superior to conditions in Italy.

“(The hiring process) is much easier here because there are less regulations and less control. There is more freedom,” says Marco. “In Italy, there is so much unemployment because companies think 20 times before hiring.”

In Italy, Flaminia says the government is considered a partner in a person’s business and companies pay it 70% of their monthly income.

marco and flaminia
Marco and Flaminia Assirelli during an interview in October about their restaurant. | Rett Nelson,

‘We love this place’

The Assirellis’ are not alone in their experience. Natalia Pihulevych, a Ukrainian immigrant who moved to eastern Idaho with her family about five years ago, has had a similar journey.

She first came to the U.S. in 2006 as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She met her future husband, Leonid, while serving. They lived together in Ukraine for eight years before moving to Rexburg on a student visa.

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Leonid was killed in a rollover crash in August, leaving behind his wife and two children. He had just graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho and was waiting for his visa paperwork to clear so he could begin a career in California.

Leo Rexburg Crash
Natalia Pihulevych, left, with her husband, Leonid, and two kids. | GoFundMe Page

Since then, Natalia’s plans have changed. She now works a part-time job to provide for her kids and recently started an online degree program through BYU-I.

“My husband wasn’t very comfortable here. He loved big cities (like Kyiv where we used to live),” says Natalia. “But for me, I feel very comfortable here with kids.”

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Despite the personal tragedy, she says her experience living in eastern Idaho has been overwhelmingly positive and she’s grateful for the people in her congregation and community who have helped her find a place to live since her husband’s death.

“We love this place,” Natalia explains. “Our (original purpose in coming to the U.S.) was to protect our kids and give them a better future.”

Starting over and building a life would not have been possible in Ukraine, she says, which has been an unstable country for many years. The threat of war has been a looming concern for Ukrainians since the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Now with the possibility of another Russian invasion in her home country amid the construction of a gas pipeline, she’s deeply concerned about her family and friends still living there.

“I worry about them and how I can help them,” she says in broken English. “They always live in this pressure. So I think they’re tired of this feeling, to live with this all the time.”

Like the Assirellis’, Natalia says the biggest challenge has been learning English, which she started learning in 2017 shortly after arriving in America.

“I want to express my feelings to people and talk more freely,” says Natalia. “It’s a little bit different culture because in Ukraine, people more closed and sometimes, even rude. Here, people more open … so I learn to be more open.”

natalia and kids
Recent photo of Natalia with her kids. | Natalia Pihulevych

Applying for citizenship

Since about 2004, Marco has done a lot of international traveling, frequently flying from Italy to the U.S. for business trips. He spent a lot of time in Canada and Park City, Utah early on and frequently came to eastern Idaho because the North American CEO lives in Pocatello.

Applying for and renewing an L-1 visa, which gives managers of international companies the ability to work and live in the United States, is a process with which Marco has become accustomed. The couple has since applied for U.S. citizenship and they’ve awaited their final interview for the last 19 months. They’re hoping to officially become citizens soon so they can participate in voting and the political process.

“We are paying taxes here so we would like to finish the process,” says Marco.

Knowing how difficult it’s been for them to legally become citizens and the massive amount of paperwork they’ve had to complete, Marco says it’s frustrating to hear about the open borders between the U.S. and Mexico and the overwhelming number of people who’ve been allowed to enter the country illegally.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “People coming here for investing, for increasing the economy should (have the same priority). The immigration problem worldwide should be regulated in a better way.”

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The death of her husband has forced Natalia to pursue a path to citizenship. She submitted all of her documentation in October and is also awaiting her final interview.

She’s happy to be enrolled in school and to have the possibility of a bright future for her and her children.

Though she doesn’t know yet what it looks like, she hopes to one day start her own business in eastern Idaho.

“We feel very comfortable here in Idaho,” Natalia says. “We have everything we need for now. I can think about my own business if I get citizenship. My kids will have … more opportunities.”