Advocates rally at Utah Capitol for national ‘Day Without Immigrants’
Brisceida Licona, a Mexican immigrant who’s lived in Utah since 2006, didn’t go to work Monday.
Instead, she went to the Utah State Capitol and joined about 150 people who urged President Joe Biden and Utah lawmakers to take action on immigration reform.
Rallying chants of “Si se puede” rang through the crowd as American and Mexican flags waved in the air.
It was a part of the national “Day Without Immigrants" campaign, which aims to create political pressure on Congress and elected officials like Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, — to support pathways to citizenship with the Build Back Better Act for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Licona said she wanted to support her community and push for change. The day is meant to symbolize the contributions immigrants have on the economy and daily life.
“We are first to help with the workforce,” Licona said in Spanish. “We do the work Americans don’t want to do. When the pandemic hit, we were essential, we didn’t stop working — we continued working even when Americans were scared of getting COVID-19.”
Licona said undocumented immigrants like herself are often excluded from government programs like unemployment benefits, social security, federal stimulus funds or health insurance despite being taxpayers.
She said wants people to understand they are human and deserve to have basic rights.
Comunidades Unidas, a Latino non-profit, organized the event. They’ve gotten support from local state leaders like Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Brianna Puga, community organizer for Comunidades Unidas, stressed immigrants cannot be deemed essential and then deportable.
“Our goal is to bring awareness to the broken promises that were made, uplift the stories of our undocumented community and urge our elected officials to support a pathway to citizenship,” Puga said. “We are determined to win this year, and we know that the Senate can provide U.S. citizenship through reconciliation.”
According to data from Congress, Utah immigrant workers account for 11.2% of the state’s total workforce and nearly 13% of essential workers.
Martha Black, a community activist and undocumented immigrant, said the community has been waiting over 36 years for comprehensive reform to occur.
In 1986, Congress passed the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act, which focused on enforcement and creating a pathway to residency.
“We sustain this country,” Black said. “We help build it together. We pay taxes, we contribute. So we want our absence today to be noticed. I want people to go, ‘Oh, where [are] the Latinos? Where are the immigrants?’”
Immigrants contributed $1.8 billion in taxes and had $5.8 billion in spending power in Utah in 2019, according to data from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization focused on pro-immigration policy.