When President Trump cut the number of refugees admitted to the nation in October 2019 AND then gave states the power to accept or reject refugees, one governor stepped up to the plate.
“I encourage you to to allow us to accept more international refugees in Utah,” the governor wrote in a letter to the president on Oct. 24, just days after the announcement.
That letter came from Gary Herbert, the Republican governor of that red trifecta, Utah. Herbert wrote that Utah has been welcoming about a thousand refugees to the state annually–but that number had dropped in the past two years. He said that there are logical limits to the number of refugees a nation and states can take–but Utah is far from reaching that limit.
“We know the need has not decreased and we are eager to see the numbers riuse again,” he wrote. Herbert added that the state reaps benefits from taking in refugees. The new arrivals become productive employees and responsible citizens, contributing to schools, churches and other civic institutions. They start helping those who arrive after them, creating “beautiful cycle of charity.”
Herbert–and the state of Utah–has long taken a welcoming stance toward refugees. Herbert was one of the few Republican governors who did not jump on the anti-Syrian-refugee bandwagon back in 2015.
Because Utah was founded by refugees.
The state traces its foundations to the Mormons fleeing religious persecution from Nauvoo, Illinois. Their 1846 exodus was to Utah Territory.
These early settlers were fleeing “persecution and terror,” Herbert told me when I interviewed him in 2018 for How the Refugee Crisis Unites Americans. “They were killed, burned out of their homes, cast out and looking for a safe haven,” he said. They found their haven in Utah’s beautiful, but harsh, high desert. “They’ve been refugees running from terror,” he said. “They understand it.”
In 2015, Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune that “Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety.” He posted a photo on Instagram in February 2017 of a refugee family arriving in Salt Lake City. Under the photo he wrote “A great Utah moment as we welcome Utah’s newest pioneers, a family of Pakistani #refugees. #utpol”
It’s not just a shared experience. It’s about religion as well.
“God is the father of us all,” the Governor said. “And that means that we’re brothers and sisters and have to take care of each other as best we can.”