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Over 70 mayors call on Congress to protect Dreamers — including 1 Utahn

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters march to the state Capitol during the “We Are All Dreamers” rally in Salt Lake City on Sept. 16, 2017. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is among a coalition of over 70 mayors from around the country who sent a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders earlier this week in support of Dreamers.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters march to the state Capitol during the “We Are All Dreamers” rally in Salt Lake City on Sept. 16, 2017. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is among a coalition of over 70 mayors from around the country who sent a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders earlier this week in support of Dreamers. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is among a coalition of over 70 mayors from around the country who sent a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders earlier this week in support of "Dreamers."

The letter was sent under Cities for Action, a coalition of almost 180 mayors and county executives advocating for federal immigration policies as well as inclusive programs and policies at the local level. Mendenhall's signature was originally absent from the letter after personnel changes in her office resulted in the request for her signature on the letter being sent to an errant email address.

"Mayor Mendenhall supports immigration protections for Dreamers at all levels: municipal, state and federal. She would love to see Congress act to provide protections for these incredible Americans who add so much to our nation," the mayor's office said in an email.

Mendenhall is the only Utah leader listed on Cities for Action's website and the only Utahn whose signature was on the letter. Although the coalition includes leaders from all but about a dozen states, the letter only included leaders from 25 states and Washington, D.C.

"I'm grateful for Mayor Mendenhall, her team and Salt Lake City for continuing to be a leader in this space. It is always disappointing that other cities have not included their support, but not surprising given their history," said Ciriac Alvarez Valle, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient and an immigration policy expert with Utah Voices for Utah Children.

"I do hope that the work we do with the Utah DACA Coalition can help elevate issues at the local, city and county level to give more local leaders that push to support and sign onto letters and initiatives like this," she added.

The Cities for Action letter stressed the importance of Congress taking immediate action to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a group often referred to as Dreamers.

"Enacting permanent protections for Dreamers is supported by the majority of American voters and we can no longer wait for Congress to implement the will of the people," the letter states. "We call on Congress to – without further delay – enact legislation that offers permanent solutions for Dreamers. Together, we stand in solidarity with Dreamers and vow to continue supporting all immigrants living in our cities and counties. The time to act is now."

Congress is facing increased pressure to protect Dreamers as the clock ticks down to a GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Democratic leaders have voiced support for passing legislation to protect Dreamers and asked their Republican counterparts to work together on the issue. That invitation received mixed responses, including from Sen. Mitt Romney, who called a potential immigration deal this year "nearly impossible."

Pressure to pass legislation for Dreamers also comes from a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the DACA program earlier this year. The program provides some Dreamers with a work permit and temporary protection from deportation. DACA is continuing for current recipients but has stopped processing new applications pending further judicial review. Its future will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.

"The recent Fifth Circuit decision is yet another clear indicator that the future of hundreds of thousands of DACA-eligible individuals who call the U.S. home is at great risk," the Cities for Action letter says. "A potential Supreme Court decision could strip DACA recipients of their work permits, threaten the livelihood of over 1.3 million DACA-eligible individuals, their families and their communities, and place them on a path to deportation."

The DACA program has served over 830,000 individuals since its start in 2012, with close to 8,000 DACA recipients residing in Utah. An estimated 2.5 million citizens also live with individuals who are eligible for DACA, so ending the program would impact not just immigrants themselves but their families and communities.

Polling suggests that Americans broadly support Congress taking action to grant permanent legal status to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Pew Research Center found 74% of Americans supported such legislation in 2020. Polling from this August also shows that 65% of voters support Congress providing permanent protections if courts strike down DACA. And recent polling from National Immigration Forum found that 70% of conservatives want Congress to act on border and immigration reform before the end of the year.

Local solutions

Alvarez said letters like the one sent by the Cities for Action coalition can make a difference, but said local governments shouldn't stop there.

"I think letters are great and effective in bringing this issue to the forefront and showing Congress that people at different levels want to see them take action on immigration reform," she said. "Though cities can definitely make movements to support undocumented/mixed-status families in the meantime."

Alvarez said local governments' support for immigrant families can include:

  • Making outreach materials immigrant-friendly by changing things to simple English and translating documents when possible.
  • Joining a coalition of cities working to ensure that all immigrants have legal representation during deportation proceedings since representation is not a guarantee in immigration court.
  • Creating a state-funded FAFSA program for low-income students who don't qualify for federal FAFSA because of their immigration status.
  • Including mixed-status and undocumented families in policies by not using citizenship as a requirement for programs like rental assistance or a state Earned Income Tax Credit or the state bar exam.

There have been some local steps to make Utah more welcoming for undocumented immigrants, such as a 2019 Utah Supreme Court ruling that allowed undocumented law school graduates to legally practice in the state. There is also a bill signed into law earlier this year that will allow individuals to take the written driver's license test in five languages other than English beginning in 2023 (that law doesn't apply to physical driving component of the test or the test for driving privilege cards, which are available for undocumented individuals).

Salt Lake City has also removed citizenship eligibility requirements for some programs, including mortgage relief and rent relief efforts related to the pandemic, small business grants related to the pandemic, and for service on boards and commissions.

Gov. Spencer Cox also outlined a number of immigrant-friendly initiatives at the state level that his administration hopes to pursue during a Latino Town Hall in October, including making it easier for immigrants to transfer professional credentials to continue their work in Utah and making government communication available in multiple languages. However, state Rep. Angela Romero expressed concern about how those initiatives would fare in the Utah Legislature.

"I know his heart is in the right place; I can't say that with everyone else," she said in October. "So although he was sharing all these ideas, I have major concerns about what the Legislature is going to look like this upcoming session, and will the Legislature be friendly to some of the stuff we talked about here?"

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Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for KSL.com covering the diversity of Utah's people and communities. Se habla español. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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