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Trailblazing Utah DREAMers hope to finish immigration fight

Undocumented immigrants who inspired Dream Act author Hatch go to D.C. as Senate tackles thorny issue.



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Esplin didn’t stop. She enlisted then-Gov. Mike Leavitt, university presidents in Utah, Catholic church leaders and a lawyer who had the ear of Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Moved by the plight of Salguero and Loya, Hatch — partnering with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin — penned The Dream Act. It was put on ice based on the white-hot anti-immigrant rhetoric following 9-11.

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Success and sacrifice » Working two jobs, Loya had saved $25,000, which paid the bulk of his electrical engineering program tab at the U. He took seven years to finish — dropping out to father a son — before completing the bachelor’s degree in 2010 with honors. Within 21 months, Loya would earn a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and his MBA. He also joined the Utah Entrepreneur Series and a development center that focuses on commercializing university projects.

"He planted a seed in me to continue my education and finish what I dreamed as a kid," Loya says about Hatch, "to be an engineer."

Now 29, the Salt Lake City resident manages a group of 74 private investors focused on start-up companies, and he consults entrepreneurs looking to grow their businesses.

Determined to be an example to her younger sisters, Salguero enrolled at the U. in 2003 before life interrupted. Her father, who was born in El Salvador, was deported. Then, she got pregnant.

"I had to help my mom with my six other siblings to pay their expenses," she explains. "I found a job as a house cleaner. I wanted to have a future but it makes it hard when you have to work low-skills jobs and try to support a family."

Over the years, she’s been haunted by her nursing school dreams. "I thought, ‘OK, I could study, but what could I do after without a Social Security number?’"

Now married with three children, 30-year-old Salguero is a part-time student at the U., hoping to complete a degree in business administration.


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As so-called "DREAMers," under age 31, Salguero and Loya are part of the two-year deferred action program — meaning no threat of deportation — approved by the White House.

"They’re both role models for the Park City Latino kids," Esplin says. "She’s your model housewife mother, who is still trying to go to school. And he’s this genius IT guy. They’re just super, super good examples of what you can do if you work hard and you keep trying. And they did it."

Politics of the personal » Pulled into the crucible of a generation-long immigration debate, Loya and Salguero have quickly grown from shy foreigners to engaged activists.

Salguero is a member of the Salt Lake Dream Team, volunteers her time as a translator, and counsels teens interested in college. "By the time they get to be my age, I want them to be a professional," she says about undocumented Latinos. "And also to raise their voices. If everybody unites, it gives a face to what’s happening — because we’re out here. We’re not leaving. This is our home."

Both have organized and spoken before Utah screenings of "The Dream is Now," a documentary funded by the widow of Steve Jobs chronicling the dreamers.

Loya — who has lobbied the Utah delegation in Washington on immigration reform — also is helping FWD.us, a group organized by Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg, that promotes highly skilled immigrants for the tech industry. Hatch has fought for more high-tech visas as part of the Gang of Eight bill.

"I would love for him to come back to the Dream Act and finish what he started," Loya says about Hatch. "I’m sure I’m not the only one in this state who has taken the opportunity and made something big of themselves. He needs to know that what he did back in 2001 was incredible, and he needs to support it."

Hatch has neither made a concrete endorsement nor objection to Dream Act provisions, but acknowledges such elements are popular in public polls.

"It’s going to take some real leadership," Hatch, speaking about overall immigration reform passage, told business leaders and Zions Bank customers at a downtown luncheon last month. "I’d like to support it, but I’m not there yet."

On Monday, Loya and Salguero have a Washington meeting with Hatch staffers to counter claims that undocumented immigrants drain taxpayer subsidized services. They will take that same message to immigration-reform groups across Utah and beyond — hoping their biography puts pressure on Congress to pass the bill.

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