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Effects of Hyrum raid that divided families still linger after 6 years

Vigil to emphasize need for immigration reform, advocates say

HYRUM, Cache County — A couple of days after federal agents raided the Swift & Co. meat packing plant in December of 2006, a 7-year-old boy called the Multicultural Center of Cache Valley.

He was looking for his parents, whom he hadn't seen for several days.

"He was scared. He didn't want to say where he lived. He didn't want to say where he was. He didn't want to say anything. He just wanted to know if we knew where his parents were," said Norma Martinez, a former director of the now-shuttered multicultural center.

Wednesday is the sixth anniversary of the workplace raid, during which more than 150 workers were taken into custody by federal immigration agents, among them mothers and fathers.

For those impacted by the raid, whether their spouses or parents were deported, or those who helped in the aftermath, the anniversary is burned into their memories, Martinez said.

"They'll always remember it. They'll always remember the impact."

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Salt Lake Dream Team will host a candlelight vigil to remember families separated by immigration raids and deportation.

The vigil, which will be held in Salt Lake City at the entrance to the Main Street Plaza along South Temple, will feature Abigail Tapia, whose mother Barbara Avelar Tapia was scheduled for deportation in June but received a one-year reprieve from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as did her two sisters.

The women were brought to the United States as children by their parents, who entered the country on a tourist visa. The family remained in the United States years after the visa expired. One year ago, the Avelars' parents were deported to Mexico when immigration authorities acted on a pending deportation order.

Another goal of the event is to raise awareness about the nation's broken immigration system and to advocate for reform, said Bryan Gutierrez, president of the Salt Lake Dream Team.

"All politicians, regardless of what party, recognize the demographics are changing in this country. When it comes to immigration, we need to move forward and focus on a permanent fix, not some temporary fix," he said.

As federal policies have become outdated and unworkable, "states are taking the initiative to pass their own laws. Sometimes, these laws are unjust and unfair," Gutierrez said

HB497, an immigration enforcement law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2011, could result in racial profiling, he said. "It is basically attrition by enforcement."

Civil rights organizations challenged the constitutionality of the law in a lawsuit filed in November 2011. The Department of Justice later intervened in the challenge. A ruling is expected in 2013.

Many immigrant households are of mixed status, meaning some family members are American citizens and citizens of other countries. These families are divided when immigration authorities act on orders of deportation or undertake workplace raids.

The 2006 raid in Hyrum "impacted the community. It still has an effect on communities all around today," Gutierrez said.

Six years later, some families have reunited in Mexico. Others returned to the United States to rejoin their families, advocates say.

Re-entering the United States after being deported is a crime, but some people figure that being reunited with family is worth the risk, Martinez said.

One mother returned to Hyrum within months of the raid. "She's in a constant state of fear that someone will know she is here," she said.

Many people Martinez met during her term as director of the multicultural center understand that their undocumented status puts them and their families at risk of deportation.

"I think that everyone who is undocumented understands that maybe that could happen," she said. But they also understand that federal immigration authorities don't have the resources to track down everyone who is undocumented nor the manpower to conduct large-scale workplace raids on a frequent basis.

"You get used to not expecting that. You kind of don't think about it. People just get comfortable in the routine of life," she said.