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Utahns grieve for families separated at border, call for 'just and humane' immigration laws

Vigil attendees call on U.S. leaders to enact 'just and humane' immigration laws

SALT LAKE CITY — Karim Jones said her mother was 19 when she crossed the border illegally 31 years ago, carrying her in her belly.

She said she did it to escape the violent civil war in El Salvador, where people were being killed in the streets.

Jones was born in the U.S., but at just 3 years old she said she knew the meaning of "La Migra" — immigration law enforcement — and she and her mother "were always looking over our shoulders," wondering "who's going to take us away."

"Fortunately that never happened. I was never separated from my mother, but that was a very real fear," she said. "And those feelings are still very vivid."

So when Jones — who married and now has three young children named Oscar, Joaquin and Sofia — thinks about how families have been separated at the border under the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy and how they're being detained in detention centers, she said she "weeps."

"My heart feels for those children and what they've experienced," Jones said, looking at her 2-year-old son, Oscar. "That's something I don't know how they'll ever let that go."

Jones and her husband gathered with dozens of others at City Creek Park on Saturday for a vigil hosted by the Utah chapter of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, joining in song and prayer to grieve for the immigrant community and to call for change.

Jones said it took her mother 10 years before she could become a U.S. citizen, and she knew she lived in fear for a long time, but she said she's so grateful every day she risked everything she had to give her a better life.

"She left the country she loved — her friends, her family, her entire world, everything that she knew to come here," Jones said. "She was judged. Thirty-one years later, she still feels judged."

Now, Jones said there's isn't anything she wouldn't do for her three children.

"I would cross any border, I would climb any wall, I would do anything for them," she said.

So Jones said she can't imagine what it's like for families who still haven't yet been reunited, or for families that remain detained, who have made a choice to risk breaking U.S. law in order to leave their homes behind simply for safety.

"It breaks my heart," she said.

Saturday's vigil comes after President Donald Trump's administration instituted a zero tolerance policy for illegal crossings of the U.S.-Mexico border and the forced separation of immigrant children from their parents. Trump on Wednesday issued an executive order to end family separations.

But Kif Augustine, a law professor at Brigham Young University, told the crowd at the vigil the executive order doesn't do anything to help many other complicated legal issues that make U.S. citizenship so difficult to reach or address the administration's policy of detaining immigrants seeking asylum.

"It's a very important thing to recognize that although the executive order supposedly ends family separation, it doesn't even return us to the bad situation we were in before zero tolerance," Augustine said.

Sharlee Mullins Glenn, founder of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, read a statement from her organization, saying the problem is far from solved and that the more than 2,000 children separated from their families still need to be reunited.

Glenn called on U.S. leaders to "immediately reunite these families and to implement humane and ethical alternatives" to the families who have been detained, as well as on the Trump's administration to end it's zero tolerance policy.

Glenn also called on Congress to pass "bipartisan comprehensive immigration legislation that includes permanent protections against the indefinite detention of innocent children and the unnecessary separation of families."

"We are indeed a nation of laws," she said. "Those laws must be both just and humane."

Another vigil attendee, Cinthya De La Cruz told how she was carried across the border by her parents as a toddler, and until she gained protection from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, she lived in fear of being deported.

"I owe it all to my parents," De La Cruz, 22, said, telling of how she's excited to start a career in public health and a life with her husband.

"I see myself in the eyes of those little ones," De La Cruz said.

Throughout Saturday's vigil, one man, Martin Turner, of South Jordan, silently stood on the outskirts of the park holding a U.S. flag.

He said he came to "support the families that have been torn apart," but also "my president."

"I just don't feel it's a fair protest the world is putting on right now," he said.

Turner said many American families become broken when "someone commits a crime."

"Nobody is talking about all the other families torn apart in America every day and every year," he said. "If you're busted for a crime, any crime, you're taken to jail, your kids are taken away if you have no one to care for them to protective services."

"Congress needs to get their act together, they need to come together with Trump and figure something out," he continued. "He's not racist, he wants to help people out, and people have painted us all as racists."

Contributing: Caitlin Burchill