Trump refugee ban triggers concerns in conservative Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and nearly all travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries is raising concerns from the Mormon church, Gov. Gary Herbert and by hundreds of protesters — marking the latest illustration of Utah’s frosty relationship with Trump even though he carried the state.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Saturday night saying it’s concerned for people fleeing violence, war and religious persecution. It urged “all people and governments to cooperate fully in seeking the best solutions to meet human needs and relieve suffering.”

It echoed a statement the faith issued in December 2015 when Trump floated the idea of a ban on Muslim immigration.

The church’s statement came a day after Gov. Herbert, a Republican, questioned how much the president’s actions could combat terrorism and whether he was targeting the right people.

“My concern is that terrorists are not all from Syria and there’s many ways to get into our country,” Herbert said. The Republican governor said it takes about two years for refugees to enter the country, and “all of them ought to be monitored.”

Speaking Friday at a weekly press conference just as Trump was signing the order, added: “We have a lot of people in Syria that are probably running from terrorism that aren’t terrorists.”

At his inauguration earlier this month, Herbert chose Sudanese refugee Yar Kuany Awan to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Kuany Awan escaped war-torn Sudan, became a U.S. citizen and now works at a medical device company in Utah, Herbert said.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied against the policy outside Salt Lake City Hall Sunday and at Salt Lake City International Airport the day before. Eight-year-old Will Jensen carried a sign outside city hall that read, “Refugees and Muslims welcome here. I love everyone.”

The directors of Sal Lake City’s two nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies said they were not aware of any refugees who were scheduled to be resettled in Utah over the weekend.

Noor Ul-Hasan, a leader in Utah’s Muslim community, called the ban outrageous and an affront on the foundations of the United States. She gave credit to Herbert for taking a stance but said the Mormon church should come out more strongly.

Religious groups including evangelicals, Roman Catholic bishops and liberal Protestants have come out against Trump’s restrictions on refugees.

Ul-Hasan said she’s chosen to live with her family in Utah for the last 27 years because she likes how important faith is in people’s lives and because Muslims have commonalities with Mormons, such as not drinking alcohol. But, electing Trump left her seething.

“I’m still upset in we chose to go by party and put a guy in who we said he was going to ban Muslims,” Ul-Hasan said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. . . I thought what we put first was the goodness of faith.”

Trump comfortably won the overwhelming Republican state of Utah, but earned a smaller percentage of the votes than the five previous GOP presidential winners.

Utah’s unique political culture, dominated by the Mormon church, puts a premium on personal decency and openness to immigrants and refugees. The embrace of refugees by the religion has roots in the history of the faith, which counted many immigrants among its early members. One of the highest ranking current leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, was a refugee as a child when his family fled the Czech Republic amid war and moved to Germany.

The Mormon church doesn’t support or denounce candidate or political parties, but occasionally speaks out on important issues. The religion received backlash for sending the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at Trump’s inauguration, a decision church officials said was “demonstration of support for the office rather than party affiliations or politics.”


Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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