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At least 64 refugees can't come to Utah due to Trump's order

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As Aden Batar spoke on the phone, several new alerts popped into his email inbox: one flight canceled from Congo, another from Somalia.

"The lists just keep coming," he said.

Each message details another refugee or immigrant family that was set to arrive in Utah next month but won't — at least 64 people, many with flights booked and background checks completed.

It's some of the fallout, said Batar — director of immigration and refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah — from President Donald Trump's executive order last week that issued a 90-day ban on immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, all of which are Muslim-majority countries.

An additional refugee ban on those countries — and elsewhere — would extend to 120 days, and for Syria, indefinitely. The order does not mention religion and would not bar green card holders from re-entering the country.

Trump issued the order in line with his campaign promise of a "Muslim ban" and plans to more strictly vet immigrants and refugees to determine, in part, "whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States," according to a copy of the order published by The Washington Post.

In accordance, the State Department has put on hold thousands of refugee cases pending nationally. In Utah, that includes temporarily stopping 23 cases on the cusp of completion in February and others anticipated for later this year.

"They've been properly screened and vetted," said Natalie El-Deiry, interim executive director of the International Rescue Committee's Utah's office. "And so everything just screeches to a halt at this point."

The committee has seven individuals — three cases — from Bhutan, Eritrea and Afghanistan who it hopes will arrive in the state before the Feb. 2 cutoff. Though no travelers have been detained at the Salt Lake City International Airport, the group will have lawyers on standby in case an issue arises like this weekend's detentions and protests at airports across the country. A federal judge stayed potential deportations Saturday, pending a legal review of the executive order.

Another 11 cases, though, were canceled by the federal government; the 34 people affected — including a seven-member family — from Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Uganda, Myanmar and Sudan will not be resettled next month as planned, despite completing an 18- to 36-month application process.

"The people that we're serving are mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, people who have escaped unimaginable violence and need a safe, peaceful and secure home. And that's what the United States has …" El-Deiry said before switching to past tense, "… had offered for decades."

Utah has long welcomed immigrants, stemming in part from its Mormon settlers, who came to the area after fleeing from discrimination. Since 1970, more than 60,000 refugees have relocated to Utah, with about 1,200 coming annually in recent years. About 60 percent of those are Muslim.

Catholic Community Services — the only agency in the state besides the International Rescue Committee authorized to resettle refugees in Utah — had 12 cases stopped. That includes eight people coming from Sudan, three from Iraq, 18 from Congo and one from Somalia (through Ethiopia). One family in transit likely will be allowed into the country Tuesday night.

"We don't know what's going to happen to them," Batar said, noting that many of these people are living in camps in war-torn areas.

About 60 percent of the refugees coming to Utah are trying to reunite with family members living in the state. One woman waiting for her husband to join her got a call from Batar on Monday, saying that he would be delayed.

"They're devastated. They don't know what to do," Batar said. "Some of them were crying and saying, 'What happened? Why were our families not let in?' They're crying and saying, 'They're not terrorists. Why is the U.S. government not helping us?' "

Batar and his family moved to Utah from Somalia in 1994 after his 2-year-old son died amid fighting in the country's civil war. He found his calling here by helping other refugees with housing and schooling.

Trump's edict is putting that calling to the test.

Catholic Community Services had already bought and furnished apartments for the people who were to arrive in Utah in February.

"We have to cancel all of those housing [units] that we rented and had paid deposits on," Batar said. "Now everything is wasted."

Additionally, though local nonprofit organizations seeking to help immigrants have seen an increase in donations since Trump's executive order, federal funding for the programs is now in question. It's unclear how Catholic Community Services or International Rescue Committee might continue to pay staff and support those already receiving care through their programs.

More than 95,000 immigrants came to the U.S. last year under former President Barack Obama, according to the federal Refugee Processing Center. Trump plans to limit the number to 50,000 yearly.

On Monday, the president fired the acting attorney general because she ordered the Justice Department to not enforce the executive order.

Batar fears that this is the start of a more extensive "limbo" lying ahead for immigrants.

"Every single day that we delay refugees arriving," he said, "people's lives are lost."

ctanner@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner

Iman Omar Suleiman, center, raises his hand with Rabbi Nancy Kasten, right, and the Rev. Michael W. Waters while speaking before a candlelight vigil at Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Community activist gathered to protest against President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspending the nation’s refugee program. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

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