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Gov. Gary Herbert said he would have serious concerns about any effort to create a list or registry for refugees entering the country, an idea that has been floated by prominent figures in President-elect Donald Trump's circle of advisers.
"I don't understand the need for the registry or how that's going to work," Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview. "I don't like people having to sign up and say, 'I'm this. I'm Mormon. I'm a Catholic. I'm a Jew. I'm a Muslim,' and sign up. That doesn't seem to be too American to me."
Herbert said last year that Utah would be willing to welcome refugees from war-torn Syria, breaking with the Republican establishment and other GOP governors who voiced fears that radical terrorists might be included in their ranks.
Utah's governor directed the Department of Public Safety to conduct special outreach to the new refugees beyond background checks done by the federal government and although the Legislature declined to fund Herbert's request for additional agents to do the field work, the department has assigned one agent full time to the project.
"When it comes to refugees who really are running from terror; they're not the terrorists, they're running from terrorism America certainly has a role to play," Herbert said, "as do people in Europe and other places, to accommodate and help these people who are being displaced."
Maj. Brian Redd, director of the State Bureau of Investigation, said Utah can't really do additional vetting of the refugees the federal government has access to all the information the state could search. But a state investigator has contacted almost every refugee that has come into Utah 1,026 since February to try to help all of them settle into their new homes.
"The idea behind that is they don't trust government, they don't trust law enforcement in the countries they're coming from," Redd said, "so we're trying to make sure their first contact with law enforcement is in a positive setting."
The division works closely with the state and nonprofit agencies that help provide refugee services, but the state does not keep a list or registry of those who have been relocated to Utah.
"We want to be able to help you integrate appropriately and for sure to not be radicalized once you're here," Herbert said, "so I think Utah is doing a very good job in striking the balance between public safety and welcoming people who are looking for a safe haven as they've been displaced by terrorism in their own home country."
The governor said cooperation with the federal government has "been OK," but could be improved.
"They've been a little less than forthright in who's coming into our borders," he said, "but they've said they will improve, and I've met with the FBI back in Washington, D.C., so I think it's getting better."
It has been widely reported that members of Trump's transition team have discussed restarting a program implemented after 9/11 by the George W. Bush administration that required immigrants from high-risk countries to register and report to government officials.
A Trump surrogate cited the creation of Japanese internment camps like Topaz in Utah as legal justification for the practice. Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the administration is not ruling anything out, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who met with Trump last week, was seen leaving the meeting with a sheet of priorities that included reinstating the registration program.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who has served as a Trump surrogate during the campaign and has been contacted since the election by the team putting together the new administration, has said a registry for Muslims from certain countries runs contrary to "the ideals of a free people." Reyes also said that using the Japanese internment camps as justification for the practice "is offensive and counter to the highest ideals to which we aspire as a nation."
Noor al-Hasan, a Muslim activist in Utah, recalled that during the Bush administration, the state asked Islamic leaders to post notices on mosque doors that members of their faith had to register with the state, based on their nation of origin. It was quickly abandoned when groups in other states protested similar programs.
"[A registry] is not something new, in that sense, but now we have more realization what it's about and what could happen," she said. "Once you start identifying people by religion or race, you're not really doing what we, as Americans, know is part of the Constitution. … We have about 60,000 refugees, so now, to say, 'We're going to separate you again,' that is doubly fearful for people who have already gone through this in their home country and come here to escape that."
On Wednesday, several elected officials were among a diverse crowd gathered for a Unity Rally on the steps of the Utah Capitol, an event that Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said was organized in part because of calls his office had received from members of the refugee community fretting what might happen to them under the Trump administration.
"We are a welcoming community," said McAdams, referencing the Thanksgiving holiday and the pilgrims who were welcomed by the American Indian population in the new land.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who was Trump's highest-profile Utah supporter, said national security should be a government's top priority and argued for rigorous vetting of those who want to come to the United States from unstable parts of the world.
"That should not be dependent on one's faith. It should be driven only by the crisis going on in that place and how we don't know who anybody is," he said. "I've always said, 'If you throw a crucifix around your neck, now we don't care who you are?' "
Hughes said he believes Trump's campaign promise to ban immigration by Muslims was "inartful," but he has narrowed that to focus on protecting U.S. security.
"Donald Trump is not anti-immigrant. I believe he is anti-illegal-immigrant, and I believe he's willing to spend the political capital to make immigration laws enforceable and practical. I don't think anyone should be threatened by that," said Hughes, offering to hold town hall meetings to calm fears of any community that might be anxious.
Herbert noted immigration is a federal issue Utah tried to pass laws governing it and the courts struck them down and that it makes sense to know who is coming across the borders.
"That's what Mr. Trump is going to be talking about when he says, 'I want to secure the borders,' " Herbert said. "Everyone talks about it. We've been talking about securing the borders, Democrats and Republicans, for a long time. We all agree on it. Why don't we just do it? I expect that, under Trump, that part will happen, whether it's a wall or a fence or electronic means."