SALT LAKE CITY (Associated Press/ABC4 News) – President Trump’s new asylum rules could impact Utah’s economy and block hundreds of refugees from being resettled in the state, according to local advocates.
The Associated Press reported a federal judge in California has blocked the Trump administration from enforcing new asylum restrictions for people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Wednesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco came hours after a judge in Washington decided to let the rules stand while lawsuits played out in court.
The policy would prevent most migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they passed through another country first. It targets tens of thousands of Central Americans who cross Mexico every month to try to enter the U.S. It also would affect asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and South America who arrive regularly at the southern border.
Banji Azeh, who currently lives in Utah, has been waiting for his asylum hearing for three years. He fled from persecution in his native country of Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal and he was wanted for being an LGBTQ advocate.
From Cameroon, Azeh traveled to Nigeria. He hopped on a plane to Ecuador and made his way through Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
He spent the next six months on a journey to the U.S.-Mexico border where he declared asylum.
ICE officials released him after his aunt vouched for him and paid for a bus ticket to get him up to her in Logan, Utah. Since then, he relocated to Salt Lake City and has worked multiple jobs ranging from construction to mechanic work, hoping to show ICE officials that he’s working towards a better life.
But Trump’s new asylum rules could completely halt his journey to U.S. citizenship, bringing great concern to Azeh, who said returning to Cameroon is not an option.
“I can’t go back to my country. I don’t have a life there. My life is erased there,” said Azeh. “I’m securing my life and I don’t want to die.”
In a press conference Thursday morning, the members of the Refugee Justice League and Catholic Community Services of Utah (CCS) expressed concern for thousands of asylum seekers and refugees who would be denied resettlement in the United States.
“These are people who are fleeing persecution and inhumane conditions in their countries. We have seen what’s going on in Central American countries with gang issues and violence,” said Aden Batar, Director of Migration and Refugee Services for CCS.
Batar said the administration was expected to admit 30,000 refugees into the country this year, with approximately 500 coming to Utah. He said the state has the manpower to assist double that number. But now, advocates worry about admission numbers dropping to zero.
“This policy will make it impossible to help those who need our help,” he said. “We want the administration to get out of our way and let us help those families in need.”
He encouraged supporters to contact their congressional representatives.
“Refugees and immigrants make America great. We have a lot of businesses that heavily depend on their workforce. Utah enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Without them, who’s going to fill those jobs?” said Batar.
“Each time we witness degrading treatment in silence, we surrender our morality. Utah is a state where that should not occur,” said Brad Park, co-founder of the Refugee Justice League.
As for Azeh, all he can do is wait. He was scheduled to see a judge about his asylum case later this year. But now, he fears that might not happen.
The next step is for the Court of Appeals to weigh in.