Utah advocates prepare for potential rise in refugees in U.S.

President Joe Biden announced plans to increase the number of refugees the U.S. will receive this year to 62,500.

Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Local refugees, government leaders and activists march to the Utah Capitol in 2020 to send a message to the world that refugees are welcome in Utah. Advocates in the state are preparing for an influx of refugees after President Joe Biden announced plans to receive more refugees in the U.S.

Ogden • Refugee advocates in Utah have started to prepare for a rise in the number of people resettled from foreign countries in the state as the Biden administration implements new immigration policies.

Asha Parekh, director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ refugee services office, told the Standard-Examiner that the department is “thrilled” to see more refugees allowed into the country.

“It’s great news that the presidential determination is higher, that refugees can come back to Utah,” Parekh said.

Catholic Community Services is also preparing for the expected increase, said Aden Batar, the agency’s director of migration and refugee services. The organization placed refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Ogden in 2016.

Batar said expansion of the U.S. refugee program was important due to the high number of refugees worldwide today.

The U.S. received 110,000 refugees in the final year of the Obama administration, but President Donald Trump whittled that number down to 15,000, Batar said, adding that Biden announced plans to increase the number of refugees to 62,500 this year, and 125,000 next year.

A February report to Congress from the U.S. State Department highlighted the administration’s goals in expanding the refugee system.

“A robust refugee admissions program is critical to U.S. foreign policy interests and national security objectives,” the report said, adding that the program “is necessary to mobilize other countries to meet their humanitarian obligations.”

Federal lawmakers created the U.S. refugee program in 1980 to help those who in their home countries faced persecution or fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Parekh expects as many as 600 refugees to come to the U.S. through September, a decline from the 1,245 that arrived in 2016 under Obama but more than the 238 that came in 2020 under Trump.

Catholic Community Services, one of two agencies that helps place refugees in Utah, could help with as many as 300 individuals, Batar said. The International Rescue Committee in Utah is the other agency that helps place refugees.

Refugees placed in Utah have come from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, Batar said.

It is unclear how many refugees have been resettled in Utah so far this year.