Tribune Editorial: Let the caged refugees start new lives in Utah

Men stand in a U.S. Immigration and Border Enforcement detention center in McAllen, Texas, Friday, July 12, 2019, as Vice President Mike Pence visits. Acknowledging "this is tough stuff," Pence says he was not surprised by what he saw as he toured the McAllen Border Patrol station Friday where hundreds of men were kept in caged fences with no cots amid sweltering heat. (Josh Dawsey/The Washington Post via AP)

Sen. Mike Lee was silent as he peered into a cage stuffed so full that it was impossible for the men inside to lie down.

“Forty-four days,” they shouted at Lee and Vice President Mike Pence, meaning how long they had gone without a shower. The stench was so strong the guards wore face masks.

Two weeks later, Lee has yet to speak publicly about it. He put out a statement a week after, but it offered no solutions.

The daily reports of cruelty at the border — punctuated by the occasional death of a child or sick adult — are the surest sign yet of America leaving its soul behind. The barely acknowledged strategy, to scare asylum seekers away from coming, ignores the realities of what the migrants are leaving. It’s a complicated situation, but we’re not going to solve this by being worse than Honduras.

One solution is right under our noses. Utah’s refugee advocates held a press conference Thursday to remind everyone. The advocates say the state could handle twice the refugees it’s now getting, and there’s no reason to pile them up at the border.

As a home for foreign refugees, Utah has outperformed. Through waves of new immigrants from Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America, the state has been not just hospitable. It has built work and education programs around helping refugees forge sustainable lives.

And we do it with families intact.

The border crisis is the most pressing humanitarian issue in the country right now. The administration’s actions are indefensible, and the only defense offered is that we're overwhelmed. ("Our country is full," the president said in April.)

We are not overwhelmed, and the country is not full. It is in our DNA as Americans to follow Emma Lazarus' creed, and no one knows that better than Utahns.

End your silence, Sen. Lee. Use your voice as a U.S. senator to pressure your colleagues and the Trump administration to let more people through to Utah and elsewhere.

Same for Gov. Gary Herbert. Less than two months ago, the governor was given a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the refugee community for rising above the anti-immigrant rhetoric. After receiving the award, he said he wants “all refugees who live in Utah to feel like this is their home and feel like they are part of this great state.”

But he hasn’t spoken up to say Utah could help with the border crisis.

This is where Utah politicians can take a step beyond their short-lived complaints about the president’s unnecessarily brutal policy. This is where they can make a difference.

Utahns stand ready to take children from cages and put them on the path to the American Dream. Our leaders should try harder to make it happen.