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Utah lawyers will work for free to defend Muslim refugees

SALT LAKE CITY — A new group of lawyers announced Tuesday that it will provide free legal services to refugees in Utah who are harassed or bullied and fear that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump could put in place a ban on Muslim immigrants or a registry to keep track of Muslims living in the United States.

The Refugee Justice League of Utah is a non-partisan group made up of people from differing religious backgrounds and has about 50 lawyers ready to represent the refugees at no cost, said civil rights leader and co-founder James McConkie.

The establishment of the group comes as leaders of Utah's Muslim community say there is a rise in harassment following Trump's election.

Recent examples include a girl bullied at school because she wears a headscarf and a man who yelled profanities at a woman and told her to go back to her country while she was walking home, said Noor Ul-Hasan, a leader in Utah's Muslim community.

Utah has more than 40,000 Muslim refugees and the establishment of the group of lawyers is a relief for them, she said.

"The community has been worried about where to go with that and what to do," she said.

The lawyers' group also plans to mount legal challenges to any possible efforts to establish a registry of refugees, McConkie said.

"They have friends in the state of Utah who are willing to help them live peacefully in their new homes and communities," McConkie said.

Many Utah residents feel a connection with refugees because the state was founded by Mormon pioneers who crossed the country looking for a safe place to settle and practice their religious beliefs without interference, said trial attorney Brad Parker, also a co-founder of the group of lawyers.

"With rare exception, those who seek refuge here make the fabric of our state stronger and better," Parker said.

The announcement of the new lawyers' group came after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he would be concerned about any proposal to create a registry or list of refugees.

The new group plans to take complaints from people through leaders like imams, and they also have a complaint form refugees can fill out to report harassment or other problems.

Ul-Hasan said the establishment of the group was important because many refugees have faced repression in their home countries, do not know their rights in the U.S. and can be reluctant to take action when they face harassment because they don't want to attract attention to themselves.

The lawyers plan to meet with different refugee groups in Utah to explain to refugees their rights while living in the U.S. and ways to deal with problems that may emerge.