Jenny Wilson: Stepping up to help immigrants when the feds won’t

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Jenny Wilson holds a news conference in Salt Lake City, Thursday Aug. 2, 2018, to announce her vision for immigration reform. At right is Saida Dahir.

This week, on the eve of the official announcement of his re-election campaign, President Trump again used fear and intimidation to rally his base by using our immigrant community as the target.

This time, by calling for expanded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) action in the coming weeks. Should this action be enforced, additional Utah families will be torn apart and good people and employees will be returned to their native countries.

I reject the harmful, pointed rhetoric from the White House that divides us and ultimately dehumanizes all.

When I worked for the U.S. Congress more than 20 years ago, it seemed there might be a federal compromise on immigration policy. Decades later, thousands of Utahns continue to live in fear by the lack of resolution. Recently, there was some hope when the House of Representatives passed HR 6 — the American Dream and Promise Act — despite some all-too-common party-line disputes. However, experts agree it is likely dead on arrival in the Senate. This act would protect more than 20,000 Utahns from the threat of being separated from their families.

Without a federal solution, local governments, community organizations and churches are stepping up to support those in need. For example, Vicky Chavez and her two daughters have sought sanctuary at Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church for well over a year. Additionally, organizations such as Communidad Unidas have provided lacking services to the immigrant community. I am proud that Salt Lake County is a government committed to solutions and picking up the pieces in our community when Washington fails them.

Due to these efforts, last year Salt Lake County was recognized as Certified Welcoming, the first county in the United States to earn the merit. This honor was bestowed upon Salt Lake County by Welcoming America, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides guidance and standards for civic engagement, language access and economic development. But we did not need a certificate to tell us what we already knew — the thread that weaves together our social fabric is our legacy of welcoming and embracing all people and cultures.

Our Office of New Americans supports thousands of refugees who are new to Salt Lake County and rely on our services. Our Office of Diversity & Inclusion provides education to county employees and our community to promote acceptance and inclusive policies.

Additionally, the upcoming census, as its currently funded, is predicted to undercount many in Utah. My office is committed to a full count and has been one of the few governments to fund additional staff and operations to access potentially undercounted communities. Without accurate data, all communities risk interrupted services, especially as Utah’s population continues to grow. I have called for the legislature to find additional resources to add to Salt Lake County’s funding. All 29 counties should have the resources to ensure that everyone in Utah is counted.

Salt Lake County has a long legacy of serving immigrants and refugees that will continue during my tenure as mayor. Salt Lake County will keep embracing inclusion and welcome all. However, because the Federal government continues to hamper the American dream by not extending crucial protections for DREAMers and a path to citizenship, thousands of Utahns continue to suffer in fear and uncertainty. Local governments, civic organizations and caring citizens have proven we can do better.

Jenny Wilson | Salt Lake County Mayor

Jenny Wilson is the mayor of Salt Lake County.