Alan Ledesma works as a waiter to afford his tuition at Utah Valley University.
Francisco Juarez is a research strategist pursuing his degree at the University of Utah.
And Ciriac Alvarez just graduated from the U., with a diploma in sociology and political science.
All three are hard-working, young people hoping to pursue careers. All three also are undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States when they were children. They say the U.S. is the only home they know.
Ledesma, Juarez and Alvarez were joined by hundreds of other Utahns on Saturday for a march supporting the 10,500 young immigrants across Utah whose lives may be upended by President Donald Trump’s plan to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Clutching colorful signs, the crowd of mostly young people marched from the Wallace Bennett Federal Building to the Utah State Capitol, where a series of DACA recipients — often called “dreamers,” politicians and community organizers spoke.
“We’re trying to come out of the shadows,” said Alvarez, 22, as the “We Are All Dreamers” march got underway. “We’re humans worthy of dignity and respect.”
Trump has announced that DACA would be phased out in six months. The program enacted by an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012 has allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to legally obtain work permits and attend school, shielding them from deportation.
Some 800,000 people around the country are protected by the program that requires recipients to renew their status every two years.
A bipartisan group of Utah politicians, along with religious leaders and community organizers, reacted with concern to Trump’s announcement last week — many saying swift legislative action was needed to replace the program.
Attendees Saturday similarly demanded legislative action on some sort of DACA replacement in the short term, and eventually, an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Many called on Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to take the lead on such legislation. Hatch tried to persuade Trump to keep DACA and has promised to work toward passing a bill that would allow DACA recipients to gain some level of legal status.
Alvarez said despite Utah’s conservative leanings, a large turnout at the march proved “we do have supporters here.”
The crowd, composed of a mix of ethnicities and backgrounds, stretched a city block and overflowed from the sidewalks as it snaked its way to the Capitol. Honks of support were frequent and drew big cheers. Few appeared opposed to the march, though one man yelled from his scooter: “Go back to Mexico!”
Marchers rotated through a series of chants. “Build bridges, not walls,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Say it loud and clear, immigrants are welcome here,” were among the most popular. Speakers included Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Murray Rep. Mark Wheatley and John Mejia of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. The march was backed by the city, county and a range of organizations, including the ACLU, Catholic Community Services and the Refugee and Immigrant Center.
Several DACA recipients told of the hurdles their parents faced coming to the U.S. — working long hours in cleaning and fast food jobs to support their families.
“Your parents have shown courage coming here, trying to obtain something better for you,” Archie Archuleta, a longtime Salt Lake City community activist, told the dreamers in attendance. “And standing here, listening to you? You have it, too.”
For the dreamers, a glimmer of hope emerged this week. Top House and Senate Democrats said they had reached a deal over dinner with Trump, ensuring ongoing protections for DACA immigrants, while also hashing out a legislative package of beefed-up border security. The deal was initially reported as not including Trump’s big campaign promise of building a border wall.
Though soon, Trump was tweeting that no deal had been finalized with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Still, he indicated he did not have any intention of “throw[ing] out good, educated and accomplished young people.”
Juarez on Saturday expressed his frustration with Trump.
“We pay significant fees for DACA,” he said. “And we give all of our information to the government in exchange for this program. But I guess it was unimportant for the administration. And not only was it a mistake economically — because we contribute to society — but it was a mistake morally, because the majority of us were brought to the U.S. as children.”
Ledesma, the UVU student, told his story of coming to the U.S. as a child. His dad was an English professor in Mexico, he said, but didn’t make enough to support his family. He was determined to help Ledesma and his sister ultimately get a college education, so in 2002, the family left their home and belongings and came to the U.S.
Ledesma said his mother and father worked “tirelessly.” His dad went from being a professor to working as a furniture mover, a waiter and a shoe salesman. But he didn‘t complain, his son said.
“Thanks to DACA, I don’t feel the possibility of deportation,” Ledesma said. He said he and his sister have a dream of one day becoming U.S. citizens. The U.S., he said, “is a country I love, even though it doesn’t always love me back.”