MURRAY — An organization of local attorneys unveiled Tuesday a new refugee rights card, aimed at providing an easy resource for immigrants when they have encounters with police.
The first-of-its-kind initiative from the Refugee Justice League hopes to put refugee families at ease around law enforcement, with a wallet-sized card that informs refugees of their constitutional rights and gives officers notice of the refugee's legal representation. The league, which started after the November elections, formed as a group of attorneys volunteering to defend refugee rights.
"Refugees are used to dictatorships that enforce their own will by using the iron hand of the police," said Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim woman who came to the United States from India when she was 2 years old. "Fleeing these countries, where abuse by the police is rampant, has made refugees wary of the police authority in America."
Ul-Hasan said at Tuesday's news conference that refugees may also feel uncomfortable coming forward after witnessing a crime, as they are often used to harm coming to those who do speak up.
The card includes a name and a picture of the refugee and a point of contact for their legal representative. The card also informs officers that the refugee does not have to speak to them without an attorney and that they do not have permission to search their house, vehicle or belongings.
It also tells the refugees to give the officer their name and address, and to comply with an officer's commands.
"Refugee concerns about how to respond are easy to understand," said Brad Parker, an attorney with the Refugee Justice League. "They haven't had several years of junior high and high school civics classes."
Parker said a refugee has only to present the card to an officer to invoke the right to legal representation. He said refugees are then advised to obey the officer's commands and not resist, but are also advised not to answer any questions.
Parker added that the initiative is not intended to be adversarial with police, but to help refugees interact with law enforcement and foster trust.
Jim McConkie, another attorney with the Refugee Justice League, said there did not seem to be many problems between local law enforcement and refugees.
"Most of the time things will be OK, but when we talk to the refugees they continually came back to 'I don't feel safe from the police,'" McConkie said.
McConkie said attorneys considered teaching civics but knew they couldn't always count on the refugees to remember their advice in a real interaction. The card is seen as an easier alternative.
He said law enforcement agencies had consulted with the Refugee Justice League as they formulated the idea for the card, noting some agencies had asked to be part of the training efforts as refugees apply for their cards.
The Refugee Justice League will have paper application packets available during meetings with various religious congregations and are in the process of creating an online application. The applicants will need to provide their name, address and basic background information, as well as information about their native country and interpreter needs as well as a passport type photograph.
The Refugee Justice League is aiming to distribute the refugee cards to at least one family member in every refugee family, to represent more than 60,000 refugees in Utah. The league is also seeking donations to help produce and distribute the cards.