Utah college students on refugee policy

Story and photos by BLAKE LANCASTER

College can be a life-changing part of anyone’s life. Many college students move out for the first time, start their journey to their careers, and real-life topics that may have not mattered as a kid suddenly start to mean more.

There’s a reason why refugee resettlement is such a hot topic around the world. The U.N.’s refugee agency reported in 2016 that 65.3 million people are displaced, which is one for each 113 people and the highest that number has ever been surpassing even the end of World War II. This has sparked political debate in many Western countries where refugees seek refuge, including America, regarding how many refugees should be admitted into the country each year.

“We’re going the wrong way,” said Warren Kidman, a student from the University of Utah, regarding the U.S. admitting 60,000 fewer refugees in 2017 so far compared to 2016. “So much on the news I see that more and more people are showing up at these refugee camps without slowing down and people just arguing about how many we should allow here.”

Kidman happened to be passionate on the subject. He said he doesn’t watch the news much, but something about the stories on refugees and immigration seem to interest him. Kidman isn’t a fan of the low refugee admittance number or recent travel ban from the Trump administration.

“I just think it’s funny how America’s origin is pretty much a bunch of white people claiming some land that other people were already living in and now we’re being stingy with it,” Kidman said.

While Kidman is unhappy with the current refugee crisis and how America is handling it, that isn’t the case for everyone. Jacob Breinholdt, a sophomore in the University of Utah’s pre-law program, said Trump is making smart moves in the refugee situation.

“Every day there’s a new story from one of the European countries that host lots of refugees. Whether it’s the bombings, fights breaking out, sex crimes, stealing, or whatever, I just don’t like all the negativity I’ve read or watched the news about,” Breinholdt said. “Why commit crimes in the place giving you refuge? It makes the whole refugee situation look bad.”

Barack Obama had an overwhelming focus on refugees especially from Syria as an estimated 11 million have fled their homes from a civil war. Donald Trump has cut the number of Syrian refugees that Obama had set by over 80 percent and cut the total number of worldwide refugees allowed in by over half.

“I hate to judge an entire group of people, but what has happened so far in Europe the last couple of years isn’t a small sample size. I don’t know if it’s clashing cultural values or what, but I stand with Trump’s choices until the violence and negativity in other countries of refuge stops,” Breinholdt said. “It’s not worth jeopardizing the safety of Americans and our country.”

However, McKenzie Sandler, a student at Salt Lake Community College and volunteer for The Refugee Education Initiative, doesn’t like to dwell on the negatives.

“I wish Trump, his team, and the people who support his decisions on refugees could just meet some of these kids I’ve worked with,” said Sandler, talking about refugee students she tutors through this program. “They’re people too, but a big difference from us is the amount of help they need right now.”

Sandler has tutored and mentored students from several countries at The Education Initiative, both online and at the downtown center at 101 S. 200 East. She went there once for a high school class and decided she wanted to do more. In spring of 2018 she will be transferring to the University of Utah’s College of Social Work in hopes to enter a career in a field similar to where she’s been volunteering.

“If someone told me five years ago that this would be my career plan, I probably wouldn’t have believed them,” Sandler said. “I had no idea a simple high school assignment would inspire me in this area this much.”

Sandler encouraged others to volunteer and if not to at least learn more about the The Education Initiative at the website.

While there are certainly dissenting opinions on refugee policy, it can be promising to see young people with an interest in refugees and other real world topics.