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Latinos in Utah find hope as immigration reform bill passes Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — Angelica Cruz and Roylando Gaytan know that there are perils as they leave their house each day because they are not in the United States legally.

They live with fear of arrest, deportation and separation from each other and their three small children, all of whom were born in the U.S.

But Thursday was different.

"Estamos con esperanza," Cruz said as she looked at the cheering crowd gathered in front of the federal building in downtown Salt Lake City. "We have hope."

Like nearly 150 others who met Thursday to share their experiences, sing and pray that the immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate Thursday will give them a way to become legal citizens, Cruz wore an easy smile and waved an American flag.

"We hope that our leaders will act favorably for us, for the good of our children and for our united families," Cruz said in Spanish. She hopes that legalization will lead to opportunities for a driver's license, health insurance and job opportunities for her family.

Gaytan carried the couple's 4-month-old daughter, Yaritza, adjusting her small hat in the afternoon sun. His face lit up as he explained she had been born in Utah.

"It's more secure for them here than in our country," Gaytan said. "There are more opportunities for school, and economically speaking, it's better."

Thursday's rally was led by members of the Salt Lake Dream Team, a group of young immigration activists, and leaders of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. They have staged nightly vigils and prayers as the Senate has debated the bill, drawing maybe a dozen people at a time.

"The senate passing the (immigration reform) bill to the House of Representatives today, I think that's one of the other reasons we have quite a bit of people today," said Maria Santillan, who works with Sacred Heart. "It's really nice to see that our community is gathering to support a bill this important."

Several in the group voiced concerns about militarization on the border in light of amendments that require much tighter security. However, it's a positive start, Santillan said.

There were a few tears and lots of cheering as the group shared experiences of members of the Dream Team and a family facing possible deportation. They chanted "We are Utah," and "The time is now."

The crowd took out their cell phones and, together, began leaving voicemails for Utah's Congressmen, who will have the next go at the bill. They also left messages thanking Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted on the bill's behalf.

The event closed as families, friends and strangers joined hands to pray the rosary, pleading that reform legislation will become law, before an energetic march through downtown.

"We want support from the people (in Salt Lake City) and we want unity between us as countrymen, so that we can establish something in this country," Gaytan said.


Twitter: McKenzieRomero