Utahns ask Mitt Romney to protect Dreamers


Comunidades Unidas and other community members pose for a photo after an event to call on Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Comunidades Unidas

Community organizers gathered in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday to call on Sen. Mitt Romney to work on legislation to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a group often referred to as "Dreamers."

Congress has restarted talks to help recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which provides temporary protection from deportation and work permits to over 830,000 individuals, including 8,000 Utahns. Proponents of the program argue the current lame-duck session is the last opportunity to protect DACA and its recipients after a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision ruled against the program in October.

The event in Salt Lake City was organized by the nonprofit Comunidades Unidas. The group said Romney has not responded to any of its requests to meet with him about DACA and that its team in Washington, D.C., has tried unsuccessfully to give him letters from Utah DACA recipients. However, Comunidades Unidas said it was able to give Romney's Salt Lake office a packet of similar letters after the event Tuesday.

"We want to encourage you, Mitt Romney, to finally take action to protect our undocumented brothers and sisters, to protect DACA recipients — to not only protect DACA, but expand it and offer a pathway to citizenship. We're not just tired of living in limbo; we are done. We're not just tired of living in fear and having our family separated; we are done. We would like to encourage Mitt Romney to finally see us, to finally stand up for us, to finally stand with our community," said Sol Vargas Carrillo, Comunidades Unidas senior organizer. "In general, the Latino community has supported Romney's election again and again, and now it's time that he supports us."

Organizers said they are specifically focusing their efforts on Romney rather than Sen. Mike Lee because, between the two, Romney has been most supportive of the Latino community and they have more hope that he will continue on that path.

Romney's office responded with a statement Wednesday.

"Sen. Romney believes that we need to get serious about long-term solutions that put in place a coherent immigration policy that secures the border, stops the flow of illegal immigration, and updates our legal immigration system. These include completing the border barrier, instituting mandatory and permanent E-Verify to eliminate one of the key drivers of illegal immigration and resolving the status of DACA recipients who were brought into the country by their parents," Romney spokeswoman Arielle Mueller said over email.

Lee's office said he is deeply supportive of Utah's Latino communities and an outspoken advocate for improving immigration laws. Lee has said he would only support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers once the border is secure.

A bipartisan proposal from Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., includes both a pathway to citizenship for 2 million Dreamers as well as increased funding for border security and a yearlong extension of Title 42, a COVID-era immigration rule that allowed the Department of Homeland Security to expel migrants back to Mexico or their home countries without letting them seek asylum. Lee's office did not clarify whether he supports the Tillis-Sinema proposal.

Vargas said the proposal is not enough since it would only benefit 2 million of an estimated 11 million undocumented individuals in the country.

"We have learned from the DACA program that we have betrayed our parents, we have betrayed every other undocumented person who did not benefit from DACA. We will no longer do that. We are no longer willing to compromise the safety of some of our community members and that of others," she said. "The movement has changed, the movement has evolved and we have evolved. Therefore, although we are encouraged, we cannot claim support. We must ask for more. We can no longer accept the bare minimum."

A life-changing opportunity

DACA has been life-changing for its recipients, opening the door to stable jobs, higher education and travel. For Erik Vargas, a DACA recipient who came to the U.S. at 4 years old, the program has allowed him to open his own company and give back to the community by providing scholarships at his high school, Woods Cross.

"I did not know anything about my legal status until my high school years, when I was planning my life after graduation. I realized that going to college was going to be double the price. And if I wanted to get an office job in a big company one day, it was going to be very unlikely due to my legal status, and even traveling had its risk," he said. "I did not see that many possibilities available to me. When DACA was presented, I was brought to tears because I knew that it was the one thing that was going to help me accomplish my dreams — and it did."

For recipient Xochitl Juarez-Cardenas, the program allowed her to return to higher education and build a life for her family.

"For 21 years of my life, I lived as a scared undocumented brown Latina woman. DACA allowed me to lift myself out of the shadows that many are stuck in," Juarez-Cardenas said. "Although I have been able to build my entire life around DACA — got my first car, built my credit and created a family of my — I am one of the 800,000 still waiting on a permanent solution."

Likewise, DACA allowed Andrea Jimenez to complete three bachelor's degrees, intern with the Utah Legislature, complete a congressional fellowship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and, hopefully soon, attend law school to become a civil rights attorney.

"While I have been allowed to pursue many opportunities with DACA, the trade-off has been living through uncertainty and constant court battles. The courts have made it clear that DACA is not safe and hundreds of thousands of us are at risk of losing everything we've worked for and everything we've ever known," Jimenez said.

"DACA was always temporary, a renewable two-year subscription to the United States, but it would be inhumane to take it away without providing a permanent solution and a pathway to citizenship — a pathway to citizenship that should be available to all 11 million undocumented immigrants," she said. "DACA recipients have been afforded more opportunities and protections than other undocumented immigrants, but we are no more deserving. Regardless of how much we contribute, our level of education or how exceptional we are, we are all equally deserving because we're human beings and we need action now."