Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was literally being cornered in his office suite by dozens of Latinos seeking to blast his proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the country, but never let them gain citizenship or the right to vote.
A hundred or so came for what they thought was a town hall meeting, but which Stewart intended as a small office open house — but had listed it in his town hall schedule. Latinos started arriving an hour early. Soon they filled his lobby. Then his office suite. Then the hallway outside. Others came and left when they saw the crowd and were told it was not a town hall. Stewart herded people to a big elevator lobby to apologize, urge attending another meeting, and pledged to still talk to as many as possible.
"This isn’t the right forum for this. It’s hot and it’s hard to hear," he said. "We apologize. We want to spend time with you ... I think you need an opportunity to come yell at your representative and tell me what you are upset about. If I don’t have the courage to stand up and take those spears from you guys, then I’m not doing my job."
About 90 percent of the people there were Latinos who wanted to throw verbal spears over his immigration stand — with a few others wanting to talk about everything from National Security Agency snooping to air pollution.
"His proposal would create two classes of people," said Oswaldo Demoura of Ogden, a legal immigrant from Brazil. "It’s just wrong."
Kyle Poulter of Salt Lake City, whose wife is a legal immigrant from Guatemala, said, "It would create a group of people who are second class. I don’t think that’s supported by the Constitution or any other precedent except maybe what they did with slaves," when the Constitution originally allowed counting only three-fifths of slaves for voting apportionment.
Stewart said his proposal to allow the undocumented to stay but not gain citizenship comes because, "We can’t deport 11 million people" who are here without papers. He would let them stay, "but there should be some price" for entering illegally.
"I don’t like it. People don’t come just to work, but to have a better life," said Flor Perez of Kaysville, a legal immigrant from Mexico. "They want the full American dream. If they are allowed to stay and pay taxes, why shouldn’t they be allowed to obtain it — at least eventually?"
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino, said, "We believe there should be some pathway to citizenship, even if it may be difficult and take time" and require paying penalties.
Some came to tell Stewart that Republican stands on immigration are hurting the party with Latinos.
"I am conservative, LDS and Republican. But my children hear everything that is happening with immigration reform, and they are all talking about being Democrats," said Oscar Sandoval of Holladay, who is originally from Guatemala.
Poulter said he attends a Spanish-speaking LDS congregation and finds that many Latinos avoid that church and its missionaries because they associate Mormons as being largely Republican, and don’t like GOP immigration politics. "You don’t go where you don’t feel comfortable."
Some people came Thursday just seeking any help possible with immigration.
Catalina Tenorio attended with three young children, and said her husband faces a deportation hearing next week. "We came to ask for whatever help we can," she said. "We came to this country just wanting to work. We don’t want any government help. We want to work and take care of ourselves."
Stewart told the crowd he will have another town hall meeting in Salt Lake City on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Avenues Sweet Library on 9th Avenue and F Street. Because some in the crowd said that may be too small for possible crowds, Stewart said he may try to also add another meeting in the county and announce it on his website.
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