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Undocumented Utah activists push for Dream Act

Published May 11, 2012 11:18 am

Immigration • Group stops in Utah en route to D.C. to press for congressional action.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For a few moments, Itza Hernandez couldn't speak — the words drowning in her sorrow.

The 20-year-old was trying to communicate to a crowd gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday about an intimate moment of sadness when her brother was deported. Hernandez, who was brought to the United States on a tourist visa when she was 4, struggled to speak.

But with some encouragement from advocates for the Dream Act, she found her voice.

"They can't let this happen ... to rob me of anybody else," Hernandez said. "They have robbed me of my brother."

Hernandez was joined by several activists traveling across the country in support of Dream Act legislation. That measure — which was originally sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, more than 10 years ago — would provide a pathway to citizenship for children brought to the U.S. without proper papers or with expired visas by requiring them to attend college or serve in the military.

But attempts at passing the Dream Act in Congress have been futile, most recently when the Senate rejected it in 2010. Hatch wasn't present for that vote, and he had complained before it that the proposal had been politicized by Democrats.

Scott Howell, the Democratic nominee running for Hatch's seat, disagreed and characterized his changing view as "etchy-sketching his position."

"This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue," he said. "It's a human being issue."

Hatch spokeswoman Heather Barney said the senator was focused on securing the borders and that the Dream Act had turned into an "amnesty" bill for undocumented immigrants.

"Over time, the Democrats changed their original intent of the Dream Act and made it impossible for Senator Hatch to support," she said.

The crowd of about 50 Dream Act supporters toted signs and cheered the speakers as they revealed — some for the first time — publicly that they were living in the country without authorization. They came from Georgia, California and Illinois on the cross-country trek. After the rally at the Utah Capitol, they were heading to Provo and then Denver.

The group's goal is to reach Washington, D.C., by Nov. 2 — four days before Election Day. The group began the trip in San Francisco on March 10.

Nicholas Gonzalez, who is helping to head up the Campaign for an American Dream journey across America, said they have been speaking to various schools in the Salt Lake City area for the past couple of weeks after their support RV broke down coming into Utah.

But a used RV has been donated, and he said they plan to be on the road again Sunday.

"We knew this journey was going to be long, but it was something our communities need," he said.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero