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Utah Migration and Refugee Expert Offers Advice Following Executive Orders

Caren J. Frost, PhD, MPH, Director of the Center for Research on Migration & Refugee Integration, University of Utah College of Social Work.

Kerry Bringhurst spoke with Dr. Frost earlier today, and she had the opportunity to read through the draft executive orders on Wednesday, and then the final orders on Friday. She says there are three aspects of this executive order that really concern her.

“The first one has to do with the timeline, and leaving people stranded in places. So people who are refugees and have been given authorization to be resettled in the United States are going to have to wait another 120 days or basically four months at a minimum before they can gain entry into the United States. Which I find appalling, quite frankly. You know when you apply to for refugee status, it takes anywhere from ten months to over a year to get through that process. And then when you are asking to be resettled somewhere else, it can take anywhere from 24 months to longer, if it happens at all for you to be resettled.

“The second thing is, I think that this is really an executive order that is based on religious discrimination against people who are Muslim. You know, saying that people who are applying to be refugees or are applying for asylum, that you can’t do that unless you are in a minority religious group in a country where your religion isn’t of the majority. I think that’s really highlighting that if you’re Muslim or from Syria or Iraq or somewhere else, then you couldn’t apply to be a refugee. I think that’s religious discrimination.

“The final thing is really just more about timing, where we are really leaving people in positions where they’re neither here nor there. I just think that’s really unfortunate.” -Dr. Frost

So explain to me how that’s impacting those who are refugees that are migrating here in Utah, what’re you hearing from these people? -Kerry   

“So from the various refugee communities here in Utah, we have been hearing it and colleagues and I have been hearing it, voices of fear. This was well back into December, where many of the refugees are from countries that are Muslim majority countries were trying to get their American citizenship. They were realizing that if they were to leave the country to go visit family, they needed to do it before January and the inauguration. Now people are thinking they may be picked up and deported even if they have citizenship, and that’s what we are hearing from these various refugee communities in Utah.

Any executive order there isn’t really any discussion about. So when someone arrives at an airport, here is what you need to do. You know, executive orders aren’t exactly operating procedure manuals and so there’s nothing in there about, ‘Here is what we should expect to have happen.’ What should people be doing at airports?” -Dr. Frost

Right. And that includes people who are checking passports and greencards. It sounds like they aren’t exactly sure how to go about this. Because we are hearing about people with greencards who are being detained. -Kerry

“Yes, exactly. Exactly.” -Dr. Frost

Have you heard about any of this, if it’s happening at the airport in Salt Lake City? -Kerry

“You know, actually I know there were a number of people at the airport all weekend, protesting this and being there to be ready. But we didn’t have anybody detained in Salt Lake. As far as I am aware.” -Dr. Frost

Dr. Caren Frost is director of the Center of Research on Migration and Refugee Integration. She is located at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Part 2- What To Do

In Salt Lake City today, a naturalization ceremony to welcome new citizens to the U.S. will include comments from Dr. Caren Frost. Dr. Frost is the director for research on migration and refugee interaction at the University of Utah. She told me her comments will include a call for these new citizens to practice their first amendment rights, to speak out against the suspending of immigrants, and barring of certain refugees. -Kerry

“One of the things I’m saying in my remarks is, you know, by becoming a citizen you have an obligation to use your voice to vote, you know? This is like one of the first amendment things you got, you got freedom of speech! Say what you are thinking about things. Let people know that some things are appropriate or not appropriate. This is an obligation, and a really good thing that you have now.” -Dr. Frost

As you will hear from the rest of our conversation, Dr. Frost is also asking the public to consider what is happening to those seeking refuge in Utah. -Kerry

“Homeland Security, national security, the CIA, non-governmental organizations, the United States, the U.N., they are all looking at who these people are. So I think that looking at who is coming in and their needs for coming in, it should be thought about in terms of, ‘Why do people from these countries need to come here? What is going on? How can we help them?’” -Dr. Frost

Are you hearing from them directly? And if so, what are you telling them? -Kerry

“They are really highly recommending that people stay put. Let’s work through the process, let’s see what’s going on, don’t try to leave the United States right now. Even though the White House issued a statement over the weekend that said that this would have nothing to do with people who are citizens and really nothing to do with people who have a greencard. It’s still just very fearful for people to even think about traveling anywhere.” - Dr. Frost

What about those of us who have family members or know of individuals who are on a maybe temporary visa or even a green card? What is it that you would recommend we do? -Kerry

“Be very supportive, understand that they may be very frightened, and reasonably so. But then I would also recommend that people send a letter, or call your legislative folks. So call your local, or state, or federal representatives and tell them how you feel about this. Tell them this is not appropriate. Send them an email. Also, get ahold of the governor's office. Tell Governor Herbert. He’s been very supportive of having refugees in our state. He is one of the Republican governor’s who said early on, ‘No we are going to accept Syrians, we are going to accept people from Muslim countries because Utah is a welcoming state.’ And also, reach out to some of the resettlement agencies. We have two fantastic resettlement agencies here in the state. Let them know, ‘I can volunteer, I can sit down and talk to people, I am here to support your efforts.’ Let them know that we are here, that we are supportive.” - Dr. Frost

Is there anything good that can come out of this? -Kerry

“Well I think some of the really wonderful things that are happening is that people are going to airports and people are saying, ‘This is not who we are, this is not who people in the United States are. It’s not how we want to treat people. This is anti-human rights.’ I think the big discussion about this at airports, and on Facebook and Twitter, and a variety of other places, I think that’s really important. It’s social action, it’s getting people out there and using their voices to advocate for other groups. I think that’s a very positive piece.” -Dr. Frost

Dr. Caren Frost is director of the Center of Research on Migration and Refugee Integration. She is located at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.  

At 14-years-old, Kerry began working as a reporter for KVEL “The Hot One” in Vernal, Utah. Her radio news interests led her to Logan where she became news director for KBLQ while attending Utah State University. She graduated USU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent the next few years working for Utah Public Radio. Leaving UPR in 1993 she spent the next 14 years as the full time mother of four boys before returning in 2007. Kerry and her husband Boyd reside in Nibley.