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Attorneys Hand Out "Refugee Rights Cards" To Help Refugees Interact With Police

Whittney Evans
Local activist Noor Ul-Hasan is depicted on a sample "Refugee Rights Card".

A group of lawyers in Utah say some Justice Department policies often confuse and entrap refugees who don’t know their rights. On Tuesday, Refugee Justice League introduced what the group is calling a Refugee Rights Card. It’s designed to help refugees when they’re approached by law enforcement.

The wallet-sized card is a photo I.D. that says the refugee pictured is represented by an attorney from the Refugee Justice League. It explains that law enforcement do not have permission to search their property and the refugee doesn’t not have to speak to law enforcement without a lawyer present.

Attorney James McConkie says for refugees, learning to trust law enforcement is challenging and difficult as many of them are used to living in countries where government officials were brutal and corrupt.

“Let’s say an officer comes to a home on a Saturday afternoon and wants to look around and starts asking you about your relatives in Syria or in the Congo,” McConkie says. “That’s a very intimidating situation.”

In this case, McConkie says the refugee can show the officer their Refugee Rights Card and Justice League attorneys will set up a meeting with a translator.

“But without council, what’s happening is these refugees, because they’ve been terrorized in their own country and brutalized and their family members killed, they just won’t talk anyway to a police officer,” McConkie says.

Another league attorney, Brad Parker says the Justice Department is being more aggressive when seeking information from refugees. An incorrect response to a question could mean having their citizenship revoked.

“It’s meant to be a pretext for having someone trip up, make a minor mistake, maybe even because they don’t understand fully the question,” Parker says. “And then having to face the issue of am I going to be deported from the country.”

The Refugee Justice League is depending on private donations to produce and distribute the cards to more than 60,000 refugees throughout Utah.

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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