Washington • Gov. Gary Herbert has told the White House that he opposes the nomination of Utahn Ron Mortensen to oversee a State Department program for refugees.
Mortensen, a former career foreign service office whom Trump has nominated to be the assistant secretary of state over population, refugees and migration, has been controversial over his ties to an association dubbed a hate group and his anti-illegal immigration rhetoric.
Herbert’s office told the White House after Trump nominated Mortensen that the governor objected to the choice.
Herbert, through an aide, “let the White House know that our office could not support his nomination in large part because of his hostility toward the principles of the Utah Compact,” Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff said Monday. “Our office supports the common sense principles of the Utah Compact and would prefer to see them prevail in federal immigration and refugee policy.”
The Utah Compact, a policy approach to immigration signed by Utah religious, business and political leaders and endorsed by the LDS Church, calls for a compassionate answer to immigration concerns, including keeping families together.
Mortensen, who has been vocal in his opposition to illegal immigration and linked migrants to high crime rates and disease without evidence, is still awaiting Senate confirmation. He has referred questions to the State Department, which in turn, has punted questions to the White House.
The White House noted his work with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s foreign disaster program and how he previously served as a diplomat in France, Australia, Canada, Gabon, Mauritania and Chad.
“He has worked on humanitarian responses that saved lives and alleviated the suffering of millions of people in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Libya, Haiti, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many other countries in West Africa,” the White House said in a statement.
Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee were not aware of Mortensen’s nomination before the White House announced it. Neither has taken a public position on the White House’s choice and said they want to learn more about him during the confirmation process.
The Salt Lake Chamber on Friday came out against Mortensen, urging the White House to withdraw the nomination and calling on Utah’s congressional delegation to oppose the selection.
Mortensen is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for reducing immigrant populations and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also co-founded the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, which worked for legislation that “addresses the negative impacts of illegal immigration.”