Immigrant youths stage nightly SLC vigil for legal reform
Immigration • Activists plan to continue vigil as reform debate plods along.
Published: June 13, 2013 10:01AM
Updated: December 7, 2013 11:33PM
image
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Loren Ruiz leaves a message with Senator Orrin Hatch outside the federal building, Wednesday, June 12, 2013. Immigrant youth with the Salt Lake Dream Team and community leaders launched a nightly vigil outside Sen. Orrin Hatch's federal building office to push the Senator to champion immigration reform.

Utah immigrants emboldened by potential reform from Congress will camp nightly on the plaza of the Salt Lake City federal building — from now until the Senate vote — urging Sen. Orrin Hatch to endorse the Gang of Eight bill to reunite families divided by deportation.

“We’ve taken the first steps, but let’s finish it,” Christian Soto, an undocumented mechanical engineering student at the University of Utah said on the plaza Wednesday. “So the people who have been living here all their lives can finally feel like part of the community.”

Salt Lake Dream Team members delivered to Hatch staffers 600 more signed form letters calling for humane immigration reform. Collected mostly at Wasatch Front Catholic and Mormon churches, the letters ask Hatch to ensure family reunification, protect the DREAM Act and to promote “an inclusive, straightforward, accessible pathway to citizenship.” Dreamers dropped off 200 such letters last week while 500 more have been gathered in Utah County by the Utah Valley Dream Team.

“We know that he’s shown leadership before,” Roberto Juarez, who traveled to Utah from Maryland to aid the Dream Team effort, said of Hatch. “We want him to step up and do the same now.”

Hatch, R-Utah, supported the bill in committee after adding an amendment that extends visas to high-tech workers, but says his ultimate support is conditioned on getting undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes. The Senate opened floor debate this week and a vote is expected before the Fourth of July.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, opposes the reform legislation, saying he endorses a piecemeal approach like that preferred by the Republican-controlled House.

Hatch spokeswoman Heather Barney, who greeted the dreamers Wednesday, praised the group for working so hard to amass the letters and for their “earnest” effort to get voices heard.

“It always influences,” she said. “Whether it influences his final vote ... he hears from people on both sides. But he takes it seriously.”

The nightly vigil is scheduled from 6 to 10.

On the other side of the country, dreamers also will be in the Senate gallery for debate on the immigration bill. And similar vigils are scheduled outside the offices of Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Beginning next week, the Salt Lake City vigils will include themes. Monday will feature fathers in honor of Father’s Day. Tuesday focuses on military members. Wednesday highlights dreamers, while children take the spotlight Thursday and faith groups are center stage Friday.

Angelica Rodriguez, an undocumented resident who recently graduated from the U. with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in Japanese, will be a regular attendee. She hopes to secure citizenship to one day teach English in Japan and to join the National Guard to assist in natural disaster cleanup around the world.

“Utah is a state based on family values,” Rodriguez said. “Now is the time for [Hatch] to live up to his faith and his commitment to families in Utah.”

djensen@sltrib.com