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The numbers of people who affected by this new policy are uncertain — though the Pew Hispanic Center said nationally it could impact 1.4 million people. There are an estimated 11.2 million people in the United States illegally.
In Utah, the center estimates the illegal immigrant population at roughly 110,000.
Pam Silberman, spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education, said, 4,592 students fell under the category of "nonresident alien" at the beginning of fall semester 2011. Of that number, 716 qualified under Utah’s law allowing in-state tuition of illegal immigrants — meaning most of those are in Utah on student visas.
Those figures represent about 3 percent of the roughly 174,000 students attending eight colleges throughout the state, including the University of Utah.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has been a leader on immigration reform and helped spearhead The Utah Compact as a way to bring a more compassionate approach to the controversial issue, praised Obama’s move.
"This is a great step in encouraging these kids to go to school, stay out of trouble or away from drugs and gangs," he said. "It’s the right thing to do. It’s justice for a lot of good kids who want to get out of the shadows."
Sol Jimenez, a who will be attending the U. this fall, said she couldn’t believe the news in the morning because she had just failed to get a job the day before due her immigration status. She was brought to the country illegally when she was 2.
Now, the 17-year-old Jimenez said, she’ll be able to work legitimately and attend school.
"It’s such a huge step," she said. "We could still be waiting for something. This was action and it actually happened and it gave me even greater hope. We should be thankful for it."
Some are approaching the change with caution.
Tim Wheelwright, a Salt Lake City-based immigration lawyer, said a memo issued by ICE Director John Morton that sought to prioritize deportations based on those with criminal records has been "anything but efficient." According to data culled by the Immigration Policy Center, barely 7 percent – or 20,648 eligible cases — had been reviewed through May 29.
Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said he understood there might be some skepticism — especially among those who haven’t been identified as in the country illegally. But he said his diocese will be ramping up efforts to educate the affected community and to let them know "it’s something they can trust."
And Wheelwright said Obama’s move should still be applauded.
That’s exactly what the crowd at Centro Civico did when the president finished talking Friday afternoon.
"I’m so pleased. So happy," Proyecto Latino de Utah Director Tony Yapias said. "We are excited we finally have an executive order of the Dream Act."
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