SALT LAKE CITY — An executive order signed over the weekend restricting immigrants and refugees to the U.S. had Utah advocates scrambling for answers Monday.
Dozens of refugees expected to be resettled in the state in the coming month, many of whom were to be reunited with family members, now face an uncertain future and the possibility that years of work to come to the U.S. will unravel, according to Utah organizations serving refugees.
A burgeoning collective of Utah attorneys is searching for refugees or immigrants facing civil rights violations in order to offer pro-bono assistance.
And a national security scholar in the state says the edict serves as prime propaganda for groups like ISIS seeking to paint the U.S. as an enemy of Islam.
But supporters of President Donald Trump affirmed that suspending immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — as well as all refugee resettlement is necessary and appropriate to ensure that the country is safe.
Looking to help
Mel Moeinvaziri, a third-year law student with graduation in her sights and a job lined up at an immigration firm, is on the brink of a promising future.
But if her parents hadn't been welcomed to Utah when they fled Iran as refugees, she's not sure she would be.
"I think one of the biggest points being missed is everything (refugees) have gone through," Moeinvaziri said of the order that would have restricted her parents from coming to the country.
"You finally get to the place you feel like is finally going to be safe and they tell you they don't want you and that you're a danger to them. But it's what you're fleeing from (that) is the danger," Moeinvaziri said. "We're afraid of these radical elements, and so are they. That's why they left."
Possible repercussions of Trump's order have dominated her family's conversations for days.
"My family is very close, we get together multiple times a week, and as the soon-to-be family attorney, especially in immigration, they ask me a lot of questions. It's something we talk about and how it affects us personally," said Moeinvaziri, who emphasizes she is not yet able to give legal advice.
Despite their citizenship, Moeinvaziri's family fears what the contentious order could mean for them should they try to travel. And because Iran has restricted entry for U.S. citizens in retaliation of Trump's order, they fear what might happen should Moeinvaziri's grandfather in Iran experience a medical emergency.
"What are we supposed to do if something happens to him?" Moeinvaziri said. "We're in just as much uncertainty as a lot of families right now."
Moeinvaziri was at Salt Lake City International Airport protesting the order this weekend. On Monday she spent her time between classes at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law preparing for free immigration law clinics for immigrants.
A fellow with the Pro Bono Initiative, Moeinvaziri helps with the regular community legal clinics, including those specifically answering questions on immigration. The clinics are staffed by law students, like Moeivaziri, who join U. law alumni to offer free legal aid in Salt Lake City and Ogden.
In light of the executive order, JoLynn Spruance, director of the Pro Bono Initiative, said volunteers are preparing to answer questions about the action and may call for backup from additional alumni. After the next clinic, scheduled for Feb. 7 in Salt Lake, the initiative will evaluate just how much extra help is needed, she said.
The clinic schedule and locations is available at law.utah.edu/probono.
Help is also being offered by a collective of attorneys in Utah who dubbed themselves the Refugee Justice League of Utah when they organized back in November promising free support to refugees and immigrants facing restrictions on their rights.
Since that time, the group's number has doubled to exceed 100 attorneys, with more offers to join coming in over the weekend, said Jim McConkie, a civil rights attorney and a founding member of the league.
"We think this is discriminatory, and that's the kind of thing that we want to pursue and help protect these refugees from," said McConkie, who spent Monday checking in with refugee organizations and imams in Utah looking for anyone needing representation. "As you can imagine, there is a certain amount of chaos."
That chaos, McConkie says, "could have been avoided all together."
"The notion that there needs to be a major overhaul, that it's dangerous and that we don't have proper safeguards in place is, from our perspective, simply not factual," he said.
'Proud and grateful'
Amid the nationwide outcry being raised against the order, the president's supporters in Utah insist the action was long promised by then-candidate Trump and is just what the country needs.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans emphasized Monday that the order comes as no surprise, is not permanent and is supported by 57 percent of Americans, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll.
"I think it's important that Americans understand that our security interest has to be foremost, and we have to balance that with the needs of others, but I don't think Mr. Trump minced any words," Evans said. "He certainly is putting America first, and I support those efforts, and I believe that as we move forward it will be done as humanely as possible."
Evans said the seven countries outlined in the order weren't selected specifically because they are predominantly Muslim, but because there is uncertainty about who is coming to the U.S. from those nations.
"That's only underscored by the fact that 46 other majority Muslim nations are not affected because the U.S. government has a certain level of certainty about the vetting process from those nations," Evans said.
On the flip side, Evans said he is deeply concerned by anyone indicating the U.S. shouldn't be able to defend its own citizens "because of a humanitarian need of someone else."
Rather than an emotional gut reaction to the order, Evans said Americans should instead be discussing the reasons the order is needed in the first place.
Easton Brady, who served as the state's deputy director for Trumps's presidential campaign, said he is "proud and grateful" to see the order in place in order to allow the administration to strengthen the immigrant and refugee system.
"Without a border, we don't have a country," Brady said, emphasizing his stance that the immigration system shouldn't make allowances for anyone in the country illegally, while refugees would be better served by financial support in "safe zones" in other countries rather than relocation to the U.S.
Brady, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that while he agrees there is a Christian imperative to care for the poor and downtrodden, it is crucial to care for your own family and country first.
"It's not inhumane to want to want to treat your family before you treat others," Brady said. "We can't just let people in here who we don't know where they come from. What are their values?"
On Saturday the LDS Church released a statement in response to Trump urging solutions that relieve refugee suffering.
Among Brady's concerns, he believes vetting for refugees and immigrants needs to be more stringent and that anyone coming into the country needs to share "American values" of patriotism, love for veterans and supporting the American people.
Evans and Brady blamed journalists, Democrats and Hollywood for exaggerating the public's reaction to the order.
"People need to know the facts instead of this whole emotional appeal, that people are spreading these lies," Brady said.
Evans encouraged any immigrants or refugees in Utah who feel concerned or confused about the order to reach out to their congressional representative.
"No matter what side you're on on this issue, I think we can all agree that what we don't want is any uncertainty about who is affected and who's not, and in that space I think we can all come together to help assure any that may be affected or believe they're affected to get accurate information as quickly as possible," Evans said.
Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee of Salt Lake, which split refugee resettlement cases between them, both reported Monday that arrival dates have been stricken for individuals they have worked with for years.
Catholic Community Services had resettlement for as many as 40 refugees in the pipeline, said Aden Batar, director of immigration and refugee resettlement. Job offers arranged for those refugees will be taken back, payments on their housing will be lost and family members awaiting them in Utah will be left in limbo, he said.
Closing the country's door to refugees is a mistake, Batar said.
"They are not the enemy. The refugees themselves have been victimized by terrorist groups around the world, and if we don't let them in, people are going to die everyday," he said.
Natalie El-Deiry, interim executive director for Salt Lake's branch of the International Rescue Committee, said that of the 15 refugee resettlements planned for the next month, only three will be completed before Trump's order takes effect Friday.
The majority of those refugees were supposed to be reunited with family members already placed in Utah, El-Deiry said.
For the three individuals expected to make it to Utah before the deadline, El-Deiry said the American Civil Liberties Union has attorneys standing by should they encounter any opposition on their journey.
For the remaining dozen refugees who were also bound for Utah, as well as hundreds of others, the refugee halt likely means time-sensitive health screenings as well as security clearances from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Defense and the FBI will expire in the interim, undoing years of effort, El-Deiry said.
"By halting the program for 120 days, there's a lot of concern about how you restart that system," she said.
Fruit for ISIS
As the son of Holocaust survivor and an immigrant, Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor, takes particular and personal offense to Trump's order. Guiora called it "legally wrong and morally unacceptable," comparable to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's order establishing Japanese-American internment camps in 1942.
Guiora, whose study and background is in counterterrorism, agreed that any sovereign nation must protect itself by thoroughly checking anyone wishing to enter the country individually, not "on a group basis, not on an ethnicity predicated basis."
Guiora disputes that the ban will truly prevent acts of terror considering it leaves out two nations where individuals have been linked to terrorism: Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the order has spread perceptions of American xenophobia and racism around the world, Guiora said.
"I don't see this as having any benefit to national security whatsoever. This actually is ill-thought through, poorly drafted and playing to the lowest forms of nativism," Guiora said. "Based on my own experiences in counterterrorism, I would say that this executive order doesn't meet even the lowest standard of basic counterterrorism."
And that message, Guiora said, makes a perfect anti-American campaign for ISIS and even a foundation for terrorist attacks.
"This is low-hanging fruit from the perspective of groups such as ISIS," Guiora said. "It turns into an easy recruiting poster."
Meet Utah's Muslims
Muslims already face heightened scrutiny when they travel, Imam Muhammed Shoayb Mehtar, from the Masjid Khadeeja in West Valley City, said Monday, but the president's immigration ban will only accentuate those challenges.
"What's being proposed, this ban, makes people like myself realize that travel will be even harder. Random searches won't be as random," he said. "Our initial reaction was that it's going to open something up that is going to be very challenging especially for people from that part of the world."
After the order was announced, Imam Mehtar said his mosque received a few phone calls from community members offering support, while others dropped off bread, candles and even a bouquet of flowers.
Imam Shuaib Din of the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy said Monday he has advised the mosque's members that anyone from the seven listed countries should be cautious about traveling. At least one man, an Iraqui refugee who had saved much of his pay from a job at Wal-Mart to visit family, has cancelled his plans.
"He had booked his ticket to leave today or tomorrow but, even though he has a green card, he's canceling his travel plans. The poor fellow had to change his travel plans," Imam Din said.
The Utah Islamic Center will hold a "Meet the Muslims" event every Friday night in February, he noted.
Underscoring fear and uncertainty felt by Muslims on Monday, six people were gunned down during prayer and eight more were wounded at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada.
The suspected gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, was known to those who monitor extremist groups in Quebec, officials said. He was arrested Monday and charged with six counts of murder.
Imam Mehtar said that no additional security has been put in place for the Utah mosque, but an extra prayer was held Monday for victims of the shooting.
Contributing: Jed Boal, Kelsey Dallas