Utah’s governor says his state is ready to take in more refugees.
In a letter sent to President Donald Trump, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert pointed to Utah’s history as a haven for Mormons fleeing persecution.
“Our state was founded by religious refugees fleeing persecution in the Eastern United States. Those experiences and hardships of our pioneer ancestors 170 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Utahns,” he said. “As a result we empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life.”
The letter, dated October 24 and reported Friday by the Salt Lake Tribune, was sent after Trump issued an executive order that requires state and local governments to sign off before refugees can be sent there.
Details of how the policy would be implemented are still in the works.
“Close cooperation with state and local governments ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force,” the order states.
Refugee resettlement organizations have criticized the move, arguing that allowing cities and states to block refugees from resettling there is un-American and will cripple the refugee resettlement program. The executive order came as the Trump administration proposed decreasing its limit on the annual number of refugees the United States would admit to a historically low cap of 18,000.
Herbert isn’t the first governor to respond to Trump in light of the executive order.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, also sent Trump a letter last month, noting that his state would welcome any refugees rejected by other states. And Oregon Gov. Kate Brown posted a video response supporting refugees last month. But Herbert’s response is a notable pro-refugee push from within the President’s own party at a time when the United States is dramatically scaling back the number of refugees it welcomes.
The Utah governor notes that the number of refugees resettled in Utah “has dropped for the past two years and is on track to decrease more this year.”
More than 1,500 refugees resettled in Utah in 2016, according to state statistics. By 2018, just 539 refugees resettled there.
“We know the need has not decreased and we are eager to see the number of admittances rise again,” Herbert said.
So far this fiscal year, which began on October 1, no refugees have been resettled in the United States.
Herbert’s letter doesn’t specify how many refugees he hopes will resettle in his state. The governor notes that in the past, around 1,000 refugees were resettled in Utah annually and that the state has “the capacity and public will to resettle and integrate at least as many refugees as we have in the past.”
The governor’s letter describes refugees as “productive employees and responsible citizens” that contribute to schools, churches and other civic institutions.
Herbert reiterated his commitment in a tweet sharing a news report about the letter on Friday.
“We will continue to open our arms to individuals and families fleeing persecution and civil war – and hoping for a better life,” he wrote.