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Dreamers press Senate panel on immigration bill

Published May 21, 2013 1:44 pm

Immigration • Salt Lake City activist pushing Hatch, colleagues on reform.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Itza Hernandez came to the United States as a 4-year-old girl on a vacation with her family. That was 17 years ago.

Now she's a politically engaged woman living in Salt Lake City without legal status, and she's following every twist and turn of a Senate bill that, if passed, would offer her, her family members and friends an eventual path to citizenship.

Through the group United We Dream, Hernandez traveled to Washington, D.C., to observe the Senate Judiciary Committee's debate on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill.

Along with a few dozen other activists, she is pressing lawmakers to reach a consensus on legislation that includes a version of the Dream Act, which offers expedited citizenship for the children of unauthorized immigrants as long as they go to college or join the military.

"I hope they can come to a compromise to get the right thing done here," she said.

Her focus is largely on Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a one-time sponsor of the Dream Act, who voted against it in 2010, when Hernandez first got involved in the push for the bill.

"For him to just turn his back on it. That was hurtful," she said.

Hernandez is more upbeat about Hatch now and for a good reason. The senator supported the bill, which passed a key committee Tuesday. He promises to vote for the legislation when it reaches the full Senate if Democrats will agree to require immigrants to pay back taxes and forgo federal health benefits for five years.

He also has started talking more positively about the Dream Act, which he says Democrats "politicized" in 2010, though the proposal remains largely the same.

"I still feel like we should take care of those kids," Hatch said on Monday.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, opposes the Dream Act and the broader immigration reform bill.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham