There is power in art — and undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, let two downtown Salt Lake City installations do the talking for them Tuesday.
It’s an effort, organizers said, to awaken Utah’s congressional delegation to the fact that time is running out for people who were brought to this country illegally as children and are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
By order of President Donald Trump, the program will expire March 6 unless Congress acts. If no new reauthorization becomes law, the stage would be set for the deportation of 1,400 of Dreamers each day across the country, said John Mejia, legal director for ACLU-Utah.
DACA allows these undocumented immigrants to go to school, hold a work permit and get a driver license. It also requires they pay taxes.
A photo exhibit pasted enlarged photos of Dreamers and their supporters on the south side of the Salt Lake City Main Library at 200 E. 400 South.
A second project brought 10,500 hand-cut paper butterflies hung in the shape of Utah, representing every Dreamer in Utah, to the Federal Building, 100 S. State, to deliver to the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch. The butterflies represent Utah’s Dreamers, said local artist and Dreamer Ciriac Alvarez.
Alvarez created the installation with help of elementary and middle school students. It was in response to a request from the Washington D.C.-based Americas Voice for a artistic presentation, she explained.
“Butterflies signify migration. Nature doesn’t have borders and I don’t think anyone is illegal,” Alvarez said. “I think it’s a beautiful concept to think of Dreamers as butterflies.”
There are about 800,000 DACA beneficiaries in the U.S. and as many as 10,500 in Utah, according to most estimates. Some 3,000 Dreamers live in Salt Lake City.
Paola Ramos, an organizer with the Inside Out/Dreamers pop-up photo exhibit at the library, said it was launched by artist JR and is on a tour of 36 cities. It will make its final stop in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 18
“Dreamers have served in the military, they pay taxes and their children were born in this country,” Ramos said. “They are as American as Utah Rep. Chris Stewart.”
The photo project is an effort to to mobilize support for the Dreamers by showing their faces and telling their stories, Ramos said.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall complimented the Inside Out photo exhibition. “People will be moved to view these people with compassion,” she said. “We are all immigrants.”
Mayra Cedino, 30, is a Dreamer who came to this country at 11. She wants Utahns to tell its congressional delegation to support the Dream Act.
In concert with Comunidades Unidas, she delivered petitions with 3,000 signatures to the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, asking that he support the Dream Act.
Cedino said her greatest hope is that Congress would someday pass comprehensive immigration reform. Her greatest fear, she noted, is that it will do nothing and Dreamers and their families will be torn apart by deportation.
“Every day that passes,” she said, “people are living in fear.”
To be eligible under DACA, applicants must have immigrated by age 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. They had to be 30 or younger when the program was implemented in June 2012.
It does not provide a pathway to citizenship and must be renewed every two years.
Lawmakers have offered a number of proposals to replace the program. While all Utah delegates support providing an alternative to DACA, they vary on which measure should be implemented.
Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love said the Dream Act, a longstanding bill, provides for too long of a path to citizenship for younger immigrants. She instead backs the RAC Act, which allows these immigrants five years to fulfill necessary work, military or schooling requirements before receiving a green card, the first step toward citizenship.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was an original sponsor of the Dream Act in 2001, which did not pass but would have allowed undocumented students to pursue an education. He last month joined a Republican-led effort, known as the SUCCEED Act, that proposes rigorous vetting requirements for young immigrants to “earn the right to citizenship” over a 15-year period.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, supports two other iterations — the BRIDGE Act and the ENLIST Act — that would offer temporary relief from deportation and work permits.
Dreamers can get free legal advice Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. To noon at the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City, 660 S. 200 East. The consulate can be reached at 801-521-8502