Article, The Utah Immigration Collaborative: A Legal Network for Access to Justice, 0620 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 3. 46

AuthorBy Martha Drake Reeves
PositionVol. 33 3 Pg. 46

Article, The Utah Immigration Collaborative: A Legal Network for Access to Justice

Vol. 33 No. 3 Pg. 46

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

By Martha Drake Reeves

There are currently 70.8 million forcibly-displaced people worldwide: men, women, and children escaping war, persecution, natural disasters, and political turbulence. Of these, nearly 30 million are refugees protected under United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mandate, over half of whom are minor children under the age of eighteen. People are forced to flee their countries of origin because of fear of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, unable or unwilling to return to their homes. 8 U.S.C. § 1157. They fear extreme violence, sexual abuse or trafficking, harm to their children, torture, kidnapping, horrors of war, and death and thus leave their homes seeking safety and stability. UNHCR, Figures at a Glance, https://www.unhcr.org/ en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html. An official entity, such as a government or the UNHCR, determines whether a person seeking international protection meets the definition of a refugee. Those who obtain this life-changing status receive certain protections; in the United States, they have the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents and eventually obtain citizenship.

There are also 3.5 million displaced persons seeking asylum by physically arriving at or crossing a physical geographic border in order to apply for safety. They must prove they meet the definition of a refugee among other criteria, but not every asylum-seeker will receive this protection. 8 U.S.C. § 1158. While waiting – and the wait could be many years – they face unspeakable hardships. They, too, fled their homes out of fear. Refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless people, unaccompanied or separated children, or victims of trafficking: all could wait for years to receive any alleviation to their fears in refugee camps worldwide or risk traveling in migratory movements seeking safety.

Many people come to the United States outside the formal categories of refugees or asylum-seekers for a range of often overlapping reasons: to reunite with family members already here under a protected status, to escape violence, or to pursue a better economic or educational future for themselves and their families. While they may be free to return to their country of origin at any time, many have the great hope of settling and residing in their new homes permanently. An immigrant may be eligible for permanent or temporary status under a variety of options. Some “mixed status households” have individuals with differing permanent or temporary statuses living under one roof and face great struggles as one may have a protected legal status, another a temporary protection status without a clear path to legal permanent status, with others still vulnerable to removal.

These are refugees, asylees, immigrants, and other categories of individuals seeking to make the United States their permanent home. In Utah, these are community members who aspire to be new Americans. To the Utah legal community, these are thousands of underrepresented, low-income clients without access to fair representation as they maneuver a complicated, ever-changing immigration and citizenship justice landscape. This vulnerable population faces the same challenges any Utahn faces, such as paying taxes or school enrollments for minor children, in addition to piles of paperwork in a foreign language to prove that they too deserve to reside here. They wish for safety, employment, education, healthcare, and economic stability, just like any other Utahn.

In 2017, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah estimated approximately 60,000 refugees, speaking over forty languages, lived in Utah; the majority of whom lived in Salt Lake County. See University of Utah Policy Institute, Refugees in Utah (April 2017), available at https://gardner.utah.edu/ wp-content/uploads/Refugee-Fact-Sheet-Final.pdf. Immigrant households also contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal income, state, and local taxes and hold a powerful amount of economic clout in the United States. According to New American Economy 2018 statistics, 65,666 immigrants resided in the state of Utah and contributed greatly to the economy, taxes, and spending power of the state. The total immigrant household income in Utah was $7.6 billion, with $1.9 billion in taxes paid (federal, state, and local), a total spending power of $5.7 billion, and $3.1 billion spending power in the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area. There were also 38,699 Utahns employed by immigrant-owned firms and 16,703 immigrant entrepreneurs reported in 2018. New American Economy, Utah Demographic Overview, https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/locations/utah/ (last accessed April 13...

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