Gov. Gary Herbert wants more refugees to resettle in Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, file) - In this March 14, 2019, photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during an interview on the final day of the legislative session at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. On Oct. 24, Herbert wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking that more refugees be sent to Utah to resettle, saying there is plenty of room and resources for those in need.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking that more refugees be sent to Utah to resettle, saying there is plenty of room and resources for those in need.

The Oct. 24 letter comes after the Trump administration cut the number of refugees the United States would accept over the next year to 18,000, and as the number of displaced people across the world has reached more than 70 million, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

The U.S. will take in 12,000 fewer refugees than it did last year, which was already significantly fewer than the 110,000 that President Barack Obama allowed in during his last year in office, The New York Times reports.

The same day the Trump administration announced those reduced refugee program numbers, it also issued an executive order giving states the power to accept refugees — or not.

Herbert’s letter was in response to that order and asks the president to allow Utah to take in more displaced people.

Utah has been able to accept more than 1,000 refugees each year, but those numbers have decreased significantly over the past two years, and it seems that trend will continue, Herbert writes.

“We know the need has not decreased," he said, “and are eager to see the number of admittances rise again.”

Herbert said the history of Utah — as a haven for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fleeing religious persecution — informs its approach to refugees, and that many Utahns empathize with the plight of those who have been forced from their homes.

He added those who resettle in Utah become a part of their communities and become productive workers and citizens.

“They become contributors in our schools, churches and other civic institutions, even helping serve more recent refugees and thus generating a beautiful cycle of charity,” he wrote. “This marvelous compassion is simply embedded in our state’s culture.”

Aden Batar, director of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Community Services in Utah, said he’s seen firsthand that fewer refugees are coming into the state and applauds Herbert for his effort to get more to settle here.

He said Utah has enough jobs, housing and other resources to accommodate a larger influx of refugees.

This year, he said, Utah received around 500 refugees but has helped more than 1,000 in the past.

Accepting more displaced people will save lives, Batar added. And he would know — he and his family came to Utah in 1994 as Somalian refugees.

“Individuals we are resettling are human beings. They’re brothers and sisters who are fleeing persecution," Batar said. "They want a place to come and start a new life.”

This isn’t the first time Herbert has spoken out on behalf of refugees.

In 2015, he broke ranks with many of his Republican counterparts in other states by not trying to block Syrian refugees from resettling in Utah after deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

He issued a statement at the time saying, “Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety.”