Advocates urge Cox to veto bill, saying it discriminates against immigrant youth

Gov. Spencer Cox talks to reporters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3. Immigration advocates are urging Cox to veto HB209, which they say would exclude immigrant youth from extracurricular activities.

Gov. Spencer Cox talks to reporters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3. Immigration advocates are urging Cox to veto HB209, which they say would exclude immigrant youth from extracurricular activities. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Immigration advocates are urging Gov. Spencer Cox to veto a bill they say would exclude immigrant youth from extracurricular activities.

HB209 would require students to present a birth certificate or, in the case of students who are homeless or not U.S. citizens, another state-issued or federally recognized form of identification in order to participate in sports. Advocates say this requirement would effectively bar immigrant youth who don't have those types of identification or cannot easily access them.

"Sports are a gateway for families to have access to scholarships for college. If they can't participate, it's something that really scares them," said Maria Montes, community engagement and organizing manager for Comunidades Unidas, a nonprofit that works to empower the Latino community.

"Anytime that they are asked to share any kind of personally identifiable information with any agency, they're putting themselves and their capacity to continue to live as a family unit in this country, in the state, on the line," she continued. "The idea of now having to validate their identity, their children's identity in this state for their children to do something as basic as play soccer after school scares them; it petrifies them."

Theresa Cervantes is a Utah mother of four. Her family has mixed-immigration status, with only one of her four children having been born in the U.S. Her two oldest children, both born in Mexico and undocumented, played soccer from a young age and eventually went on to recieve sports scholarships. She said soccer was the gateway that allowed both her sons, who are now adults, to attain a better future.

"This was something beautiful for us as an undocumented family. Above all, it made my son feel like he belonged in this country, that for the first time he was not seen as different or less than," Cervantes said in Spanish. "And we never had to give any type of identification ... and now I'm learning that this proposed law, sincerely, creates a favorable environment for the racism that has been awakened in the past few years and takes away opportunities from our children."

HB209 sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, said advocates are misinformed and that he has worked closely with the State Board of Education and the Utah High School Athletic Association to ensure the bill wouldn't have a detrimental impact on immigrants or undocumented students.

"The same documentation that an individual student would have to give in order to register in the school themselves are the documentations that are accepted to participate in athletic sports," he said. "In talking to these groups, what they said is that it was flagged by some national group that looked at it and they had reached out to this local group, and I think they just misunderstand how the bill works."

Teuscher added that possible alternative forms of identification could be a state-issued ID, driver's licenses (which are not available to undocumented immigrants), passports, state immunization records and federally-recognized documents like an I-94 form, which is issued by Customs and Border Protection to immigrants who enter the U.S. through a legal port of entry.

Montes said Comunidades Unidades received the same information from Teuscher but that the organization still believes the bill will leave out families who don't have the kinds of documentation Teuscher listed.

"The bill he sponsored does not have any clarity about what kind of documentation it is asking for in comparison to what he is saying," she said. "Undocumented individuals cannot have access to a state ID. Federal ID, which would be the other option, would also be impossible for a person who is undocumented to have access to. The form that he's talking about, the I-94, is a form that people who enter the U.S. through a port of entry can access. Undocumented people don't always access the U.S. through a port of entry."

Parents reported that while schools ask for a birth certificate, a state-sponsored ID or federally recognized identification, they also accept an affidavit of a birth certificate — something she said HB209 doesn't allow — for students who don't have other ID types, Montes added.

"The language is so broad that even community-based organizations and other groups are not understanding even how to go ahead and follow this law," she said. "It puts our school administrators in a really hard place because there's a lot that they don't know specially about mixed-(immigration)-status families and the way that the law operates."

That lack of clarity makes if difficult to know how many students would be impacted by the bill, she added. However, an estimated 5,000 undocumented immigrants under the age of 16 live in Utah, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Teuscher, in contrast, estimated that the number of immigrant children who would be excluded from sports because of the bill to be very low. He said he reached out to the Jordan School District, which is in his congressional district, to get a better idea of the possible impacts.

"They said the count will be less than 20 a year, if that," he said. "They said the majority of those cases are actually in elementary school, not in high school, because they deal with them as they come to register. So that low percentage that's going to be in high school and then the percentage on top of that of those that are participating in sports — we're probably only talking about one or two students, if that, within that large district."

Does HB209 impact the LGBTQ community?

HB209 was originally written to allow online, private, charter and homeschool students to play sports outside of their home district. However, it was eventually combined with HB463, which prohibited public schools from participating in athletics associations that do not collect a birth certificate or other identifying documents during registration. Another bill, SB93, prohibits a name change or gender change on a minor's birth certificate.

"From what I can tell, the amendments that were added were put there to ensure that certain folks who identify in certain ways could be excluded from being able to participate in extracurricular activities — and in the process of doing that, I think the lawmakers are also hurting communities even beyond those who they initially intended to target with this bill," Montes said.

However, Teuscher said neither HB209 or SB93 will change how transgender students can participate in sports.

"There's already a process set up in HB11 of how they handle when someone wants to participate in the sport that's different than the sex that's on their birth certificate," Teuscher said, referring to a 2022 bill that banned transgender girls from competing in female school sports.

Montes said Comunidades Unidas has been petitioning the governor for a meeting since last week unsuccessfully and organized a petition urging the governor to veto the bill and instead allow additional study on the the bill's impact. The governor's office did not immediately respond to's request for comment; however HB209 was not on a list of 176 bills the governor signed Tuesday.

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ImmigrationUtah LegislatureMulticultural UtahPoliticsUtahEducationVoces de Utah
Sydnee Gonzalez is a multicultural reporter for 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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