Many Utah refugees frightened by impending executive order

Many Utah refugees frightened by impending executive order


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SALT LAKE CITY — Some refugees in Utah are a little unsettled as a second executive order on immigration is set to go into effect on Thursday.

It remains to be seen whether the order, issued by President Donald Trump, will be upheld by court judges and it is unknown what, if any, effects it will have on the country's refugee population.

But that doesn't mean people aren't nervous.

"The new order does not touch permanent residents," said Alyssa Williams, immigration program coordinator and an attorney with Catholic Community Services, which oversees the refugee resettlement program in the state of Utah. She said anyone with a green card or official refugee status (I-94) is safe and — barring criminal status — will not be asked to leave the country.

"Immigration officers can only talk to you or take you in if you have committed a crime," she told a gathering of refugees at a training meeting Saturday at the Utah Refugee and Training Center.

The new order, similar to the first, will attempt to ban new refugees from coming into the United States for 120 days, beginning March 16. Refugees already in the U.S. will not be deported, however. The order includes immigrants coming from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, but not Iraq, as was listed in the first order issued in January.

Trump also intends to limit the number of refugees coming to the U.S. in the future by changing the interview process and making it harder and taking longer for them to make it into the country.

"I need you to not be afraid," Williams told the Utah refugees. "Your status cannot be taken away by police."

Lt. Jared Garcia, with the Utah Department of Public Safety, told the refugees, "Our responsibility is to help you feel safe." He said refugees, like anyone else, shouldn't be afraid to come to police with concerns of any kind.

Officers throughout the state are being trained to handle various situations, including interacting with refugees and they are learning to be more tolerant of cultural differences.

"We understand that it is quite the process to come here to a different environment," he said. "We want to build a community of trust."

Anyone with an emergency situation to report is encouraged to call 911, and crimes involving civil rights can also be reported to

Rebecca, who came to Utah from Somalia, said some people don't have the money necessary to renew a green card, an issue that causes her some concern. She doesn't want to be afraid, but doesn't understand how to pay the fees when she is unemployed.

Williams said the government will waive fees for people with low incomes, but the proper paperwork needs to be filed. Though, she emphasized that green card status does not expire.

Children born in the U.S. to refugee parents are also safe from threats of deportation, she said. Those under 18 only become more protected when parents further the citizenship process, as more rights, benefits and protections of the Constitution are afforded to U.S. citizens.

Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates told the group that schools are a safe place, where status isn't a concern.

"You're here because your children are your best assets and you wanted a better life for them," he said. "We share that ideal. We want them to be safe and having a good experience."

He encouraged refugee parents to raise concerns with school personnel, if necessary.

"Many people in leadership roles in our community care about refugees," said Asha Parekh, manager of refugee services for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "They are laying good foundations for you to be successful here."

Stories of success involving refugees, as well as stories of hardship in keeping families together, she said, are important, as they help illustrate the need for refugee resettlement programs throughout the country.

"You are not alone," Parekh said. "People want to help." Email: Twitter: wendyleonards

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Wendy Leonard


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