As Utah governor, I wrote to President Biden offering our state as a safe haven for Afghan refugees. This is why

·2-min read
Spain Afghanistan (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Spain Afghanistan (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In 1845, my great-great-great-grandmother Elvira Pamela Mills Cox fearlessly stood her ground between an angry mob and an ornate wooden cabinet handcrafted by her father.

Targeting members of a small but growing Christian religion called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mob threatened to burn her house down and chase all church members out of the state. But Elvira bravely insisted they help her remove the cherished hutch before they destroyed the home – both of which they did.

That violent encounter, the murder of church leaders including Joseph Smith and scores of other persecutions endorsed by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs set my ancestors and hundreds of other so-called Mormons on a journey westward to find a place where they could practice their faith uninterrupted. Many of those forced to leave their homes – including my great-great-great-grandparents – settled in the Salt Lake Valley, then a territory of Mexico.

Utah’s unique origin story helps explain in part why, as a state, we unreservedly welcome refugees and immigrants with open arms and hearts. Many descendants of the state’s early settlers have heard harrowing family stories of fear and pain, of persecution and displacement, of the hardships that result from resettling in an unknown land. Utahns are sensitive to the anguish caused by forced migration and want to help those who find themselves in similarly precarious situations today.

As reports of the escalating crisis in Afghanistan began to surface last week, I wrote to President Biden offering Utah as a safe haven for refugees fleeing the war-torn nation. Utah was one of the first states in the nation to do so. Within minutes of my writing to the president, letters, calls and notes from mayors, business leaders and fellow Utahns from all walks of life began flooding in, expressing support and offering to help.

To date, 60,000 refugees have resettled in Utah, from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Syria, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and more. The diversity of traditions, foods and perspectives refugees have brought with them has only enriched our community. While our state’s ranking as the fastest-growing in the nation presents its own challenges, we remain committed to creating space for those who find themselves in desperate circumstances. As global citizens, we stand ready to do our part to serve the vulnerable and do the right thing.

I’m proud of our state’s heritage, which has shaped our willingness to embrace those in need.

As a Republican governor, I have little influence on the foreign policy decisions of a Democratic administration. But what I can do is provide safe haven for those caught in the crossfire.

Spencer J Cox is the governor of Utah

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