by Amanda Verzello at Deseret News on January 24, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY â Despite the chill breeze that came with dusk, supporters of federal immigration reform and amnesty for Utah’s illegal immigrants stood firm Monday on the south steps of the state Capitol.
“This building might look like the U.S. Capitol, but it is the wrong place for immigration reform,” said Mark Alvarez, an attorney and radio host of Pulso Latino.
His sentiment for a federal, rather than a state, solution to illegal immigration was echoed earlier in the day at a news conference by local religious leaders. Both demonstrations took place on the first day of the 2011 Legislature, which will be dealing with about a half-dozen bills attempting to address immigration. The issue caught fire last year in Utah and other states after Arizona passed a controversial immigration law that has been largely blocked by a federal judge.
The late Monday rally in Utah, titled “Don’t Let Utah Become Arizona,” was organized by members of United for Social Justice, a Utah-based activist organization. Members led the crowd of more than 100 in chanting messages to Utah lawmakers, in English and in Spanish, including “fund education, not deportation” and “no human is illegal.” They also chanted for amnesty.
“Something has to be done with our immigration laws,” said Ellie Miller, a retired English as a second language teacher from Salt Lake. Her main concern was for the children, some of whom she taught, who are affected by anti-immigration laws.
“They can’t go back,” she said. “They came with their families.”
A Division of Child and Family Services worker who wished to remain anonymous said she came to the rally to show her support for keeping families together. “People don’t realize what damage it does to a child,” she said.
Many Hispanic adults did not wish to comment on their attendance. Local high school students standing among the crowd, where signs such as “Who Would Jesus Deport?” were raised, said their motivation for attending was “to support.”
Earlier in the day, local religious leaders called for Utah lawmakers to put pressure on the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“We believe that we need to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and provide them with an earned pathway to permanent residency, to protect family unity, and ensure the just and equitable treatment of all people,” said the Rev. Steven A. Klemz of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, who organized the leaders for a news conference at the Capitol.