Immigrants 'coming out'
In its 2009 values statement, the Enriching Utah Coalition declared: "Effective immigration law must be enacted and administered at the federal level." In June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Arizona vs. United States, declared: "The federal power to determine immigration policy is well settled."
Few question the need for federal reform: simplified visa processes, streamlined procedures for immigrant workers, improved focus on security threats, greater agency coordination and systemic integrity.
Immigration is characteristic in nature, variable and to some degree uncontrollable. This challenges politicians who want to appear tough and in control, even when they are not. Sadly, the two parties' electoral bases prevail, precluding serious policy considerations. The resulting status quo is hostile and unsustainable.
A lot of good people are caught in the fight over bad law, and some in Utah have begun to speak out.
A few weeks ago, during an immigration presentation at the library, a man said he was a farmer who hired undocumented workers. I advised him not to share such private information in public and suggested using a hypothetical. The man continued, "I hire undocumented workers and I pay them cash."
Brasher than most, this farmer spoke an increasingly well-known truth: Many Utah businesses depend on undocumented workers. From resort areas in Moab and St. George to dairy farms near Logan, undocumented immigrants work in hotels, agriculture and construction.
The immigration bureaucracy is slow and expensive for employers, whose success depends on speed and efficiency. In other words, businesses cannot get legal workers at reasonable cost and in a timely manner. Undocumented workers usually have no way to legalize their status. So it goes.
Whether or not one approves, undocumented immigrants are part of America: 63 percent have lived here for more than 10 years, 35 percent for more than 15. Most will not go away, despite harsh laws and debates over labels ("illegal immigrant" vs. "undocumented immigrant").
In ever-growing numbers and often against sound legal advice, undocumented immigrants are "coming out" about their status. The book DREAMers: Living in the Shadow of Hope, by Annie Brewer and Lynn Hoffman-Brouse, tells some of these stories in words and images.
One young Utahn wrote: "People ask me if I wasn't afraid of 'coming out' and let everyone know about my immigration status, the truth is that I was and I still am. I am afraid for my family, for my younger brother, but I just felt exhausted of having to hide and having to pretend I'm someone that I'm not."
Undocumented students with the Salt Lake Dream Team and other Utah organizations have told their stories at public forums, at times on camera. Some use the slogan "Undocumented and Unafraid." One cannot help but admire their courage, even as one may be anxious, perhaps afraid, for them.
Last June in Time magazine, journalist-turned-immigration-activist Jose Antonio Vargas wrote about a particular quirk that resembles fiction: "I quickly found out that even though I publicly came out about my undocumented status, I still do not exist in the eyes of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)."
Stories of rigid, unyielding immigration laws are not new. However, that names and faces more frequently match them indicates the urgent need for reform.
Mark Alvarez is an attorney who lives in Salt Lake City and hosts "Sin Rodeos," a Spanish-language radio show.
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