SALT LAKE CITY – The halls of Catholic Community Services are buzzing with an energy that hasn’t been felt in more than four years. After years of being hobbled by federal policies that reduced the flow of refugees coming to Utah to a trickle, changes brought by the new administration mean CCS is gearing up to help more people than ever. It’s an exciting time, Migration and Refugee Services Director Aden Batar said.
Batar and his staff are preparing their volunteer community to resume CCS’ refugee resettlement program, which was only minimally active during the Trump administration. However, President Joe Biden is expected to allow 62,500 refugees to come to the United States this year; he also has expressed an intent to raise that number to 125,000 in 2022.
CCS and other US refugee organizations had been accommodating that many refugees prior to 2016 and should have no difficulty resettling that number, Batar said. He anticipates that CCS will see 200 to 300 refugees arrive in Utah this year. Last year, less than 100 refugees came to Utah, the lowest annual number since the refugee program began in the early 1980s. So far, this fiscal year (which began in October) only one individual from Afghanistan and a family from Iraq have resettled in Utah. Batar expects that to change rapidly.
“There is no shortage of refugees to arrive because all those four years the refugees have been basically warehoused in refugee camps,” he said.
While the number of refugees decreased dramatically, Utahns remained willing to volunteer in the resettlement process, Batar said. Utah government, business and religious organizations that have partnered with CCS such as the Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also stand ready to assist, he said.
Concerns about national security related to the refugee program are unwarranted, he said. “Refugee resettlement is a very safe program,” Batar said. “Anyone who is coming through this program is already vetted. We don’t have to worry about whether they are criminals or terrorists. They are the safest human beings to come to our country. The process that they go through is very rigorous; I don’t think anyone could sneak through this program.”
Also, each refugee must have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a plane to the U.S.
Along with helping families, CCS is the only agency in Utah that provides foster care for unaccompanied refugee minors, including those from refugee camps and those who have been detained at the US.-Mexico border. Currently the organization serves about 100 children through the program. CCS has placed unaccompanied refugee minors in foster homes in the Salt Lake and Ogden areas. Recently, the program expanded into the Logan area. However, there is still a need for more foster families, Batar said.
CCS will train, license and provide support for these foster families.
“They don’t have to take everything on their shoulders; the whole agency will be there to provide support for them,” he said.
“Children don’t belong in those cages,” he added. “We want them to have a loving and caring home so they can have their childhood life back.”
To further help refugees who are minors, CCS has recently opened Independent Living Plus. This program is housed in a duplex the organization has rented, with one side each for males and females. There, refugee youth ages 16-21 who have been in the foster program can live for six to 12 months as they transition to self- sufficient living. At Independent Living Plus they will be taught interpersonal skills such as living with roommates and conflict resolution by mentors. They will also learn how to use public transportation and health insurance, and financial literacy.
“By the time they leave the program they will have all the skills of living on their own,” Batar said.
Along with helping the youth acquire these skills, the new facility will free up foster homes for unaccompanied minors who will come to Utah in the coming years.
In addition to supporting refugees, CCS also provides immigration services. With four experienced immigration attorneys and a support staff, CCS is one of the largest nonprofit immigration service providers in Utah.
“We want to make sure families are not being separated, that people get their citizenship,” Batar said. “We want to make sure that no one goes to immigration court unrepresented.”
CCS is always in need of volunteers, monetary donations and in-kind donations such as furnishing and household items.
“We heavily rely on our community support. We always need donations to keep the staffing that we have so we can continue these vital services to our immigrant community,” Batar said.