Why this ‘Dreamer’ wants Biden to expand work permits for immigrant workers
The Here to Work campaign has launched in several states leading up to a summit in Washington on Nov. 13-14
Enrique Sanchez grew up with local police officers as role models and dreamed of someday putting on the badge himself, though he never got the chance to follow through on that ambition.
Although he only remembers living in Utah, Sanchez was born in Mexico and moved with his parents to the U.S. as a 2-year-old. As a "Dreamer," he would later learn, he is ineligible to become a police officer under current law.
"Every single aspect of my life has been impacted by immigration," he said.
With that door closed due to his immigration status, Sanchez instead pursued a criminal justice degree while working in a civilian role for a local police department and began advocating for immigration reform.
Now, he's among several Utah groups urging President Joe Biden to expand work authorization for long-term immigrants, in hopes of opening doors for young people like himself.
"I understand that struggle — the struggles and aspirations of immigrants who, like myself, have been granted a chance to contribute to this great nation," he said at a press conference held at the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Taylorsville to announce the Here to Work campaign.
Sanchez works as the Intermountain state director for American Business Immigration Coalition Action, another group behind the campaign.
While Sanchez has a personal, emotional connection to the nation's immigration policies, he said work authorization is about more than just doing the right thing — it's about doing what's best for the state's economy.
Long-term immigrant workers provide needed labor in key sectors, including construction, manufacturing and hospitality, he said, all of which are "vital industries in the Beehive State, particularly as we anticipate the potential return of the Winter Olympics."
Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said her industry faces a "persistent and profound shortage of labor," which she said could be remedied by additional work permits. It's a chance to "pump some fresh energy" into the local economy, she said.
"Hispanic-owned businesses have played a pivotal role in job creation, economic growth and community development," said Carlos Trujillo, a member of the board of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Their success is a testament to the resilience and dedication of the Hispanic community."
Utah has an undocumented population of as many as 110,000 people and about 38,000 children who live with an undocumented family member, according to Moe Hickey, executive director of Voices for Utah Children.
"We're talking about real people who are vital members of our community," he said. "We believe that we all have a moral and civic responsibility to support and advocate for these families."
Many of the advocates praised Utah Gov. Spencer Cox for leading out on immigration as chairman of the National Governors Association. The Here to Work campaign has already launched in several states leading up to a summit in Washington on Nov. 13-14, which will include a rally outside the White House.
Sanchez has already successfully pushed for policy change in Utah as the "poster child" for a bill to allow some immigrants to join law enforcement, but the law applies only to green card holders, not Dreamers.
He pointed out that Congress hasn't passed significant immigration reform since the Reagan administration, and he isn't optimistic that the gridlock over the issue will relent anytime soon.
"I unfortunately have kind of gotten used to being let down in terms of immigration, and my career was one of the biggest letdowns," he said. "To this day, (I) see my old chief of police and he wishes that he could do anything possible to get me on the force. It is still a career that I very much admire, and I would love to be a part of."
"One of my biggest motivators is knowing that there's a second grader in elementary school right now who's going through the same issues that I will have gone through," Sanchez continued. "I really hope that the work that we're doing today will change the outcome of their goals."