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Utah students being harassed after election outcome, school district says



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SALT LAKE CITY — The day after Americans selected Donald Trump as their next president, agencies and law offices that serve immigrants and refugees received a steady stream of phone calls and visits from anxious clients.

"Our clients are really worried and scared. Many of them are saying to us, 'What's next? What's going to happen to us?' — especially refugees coming from Muslim countries," said Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah.

At Farnsworth Elementary School in West Valley City, a parent Wednesday observed two kindergartners telling a classmate who is Latino that Trump's victory meant he would be going back to Mexico.

Later in the day, the Granite School District notified staff, students and parents that administrators had received a handful of reports "that students are being harassed as a result of the election outcome. Not acceptable. Please report!" the district tweeted.

Another tweet from school administrators said, "No student in our schools should be made to feel unsafe or intimidated. Use the SafeUT app or report to administrators."

From college campuses to neighborhood businesses, the outcome of Tuesday's election was a hot topic of conversation Wednesday, with many people saying they were "scared" about what Trump's election means for them and their families, said Anna Monguia, a server at El Morelense restaurant in West Valley City.

"When I go out to the tables and stuff, they talk about that. It wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted something better for them," she said.

Jonny Benson, an immigration attorney, said he had received phone calls from a number of clients, some of whom have received reprieve from deportation under executive orders put in place by the Obama administration.

But the future of those orders is uncertain once Trump is sworn into office. During the campaign, the GOP candidate vowed to crack down on unauthorized immigration, even to build a border wall.

"I think the one thing that concerns many of us is the hateful rhetoric that our president-elect has used in his campaign. My hope is that he softens up on that and that any immigration policy would include a very humane treatment of families, especially those who have U.S. citizen children," Benson said.

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In particular, Trump said he would target unauthorized immigrants with criminal histories.

"The laws that we have already address security and safety threats. Currently, people who have criminal histories are placed in removal, and if they cannot show they are people of good moral character, they will be removed," Benson said.

Caren J. Frost, director of the University of Utah’s Center for Migration and Refugee Research, said time will tell whether Trump's campaign rhetoric results in new policies or enforcement actions.

Frost, whose work primarily involves refugees, said it is highly important that any new practices or policies are based on accurate information.

For instance, refugees go through a careful vetting process before they are resettled in the United States.

"It’s like 12 to 14 different steps that people have to go through. Once they get here, they’re met at the airport and they get another check before they’re even let out of the airport. It’s a very thorough vetting process. It’s a lot for people to go through, and they’ve already been through so much by the time they’ve been able to become adjudicated as a refugee. Many people don’t even get that status and they don’t get to come here," Frost said.

As the community waits to learn what, if any, changes are in store, it is important that Utah continue to be a welcoming place to refugees, she said.

"They’re just like you, and they’re just like me. They want to have a good life. They want to be employed. They want their children to be taken care of. They want a safe place to live. It’s all the things everyone wants for their families," Frost said.

Catholic Community Services of Utah, meanwhile, is reassuring clients that caseworkers and attorneys will do all they can to make sure clients' "rights are protected and we will advocate for refugees to be admitted regardless of their religious backgrounds," Batar said.

As a larger community, "we need to stand up with those in need of our protection and our help," he said.

Marjorie Cortez

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