SALT LAKE CITY — Raphael and Elisa da Silva, who spent more than 30 years in the United States without documentation, joined a march Saturday to support the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Their 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Victoria, quietly hugged a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy as her father pushed her in a stroller up State Street toward the state Capitol where hundreds of people gathered for a pro-immigrant rally.
"It meant possibilities," Elisa da Silva said of the couple participating in the now-threatened program created in 2012 for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
Those possibilities included continuing their education, starting a family and buying a home in South Jordan after being granted deferred action on their immigration status for two years at a time.
"We felt like we were at a part in our lives where we’re safe. We’re OK," she said.
President Donald Trump announced earlier this month he would phase out the program aimed at young immigrants often referred to as DREAMers after an earlier proposal.
Since then, he has met with Democratic leaders in Congress about possibly pairing legislation protecting the young immigrants from deportation with efforts to enhance security along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Elisa da Silva sounded optimistic about a resolution being reached.
"I don’t think it’ll go away because I trust Americans know what is right," she said. "As you can see there are people that stand by us. When you have so many people working together for the same thing, you have to believe it won’t go away."
I don’t think (DACA will) go away because I trust Americans know what is right… When you have so many people working together for the same thing, you have to believe it won’t go away.
–Elisa da Silva, DACA participant
Hundreds of marchers stood on the steps of the Capitol waving signs reading, "Remember the US in USA," "My people are here to stay," "My dreams are not illegal," and other messages of support for immigrants.
"Your fight is our fight. We are one," Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, wearing an "I’m a welcomer" T-shirt, told the crowd. She urged them to contact their congressional representatives to take action to protect DACA recipients.
"We stand with you today," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said, calling Salt Lake a welcoming community. "To those who have come here seeking the American dream, we say welcome because all of us, all of us Americans are dreamers."
Ciriac Alvarez described herself to cheers as "undocumented and unafraid. I am undocumented and unashamed. And I am undocumented and here to stay." She said she came to America with her family at 5 years old.
"My parents risked their lives and knew that they might not have all the opportunities for me," said Alvarez, a graduate of the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology.
"Yes I am a DREAMer," she said, calling on the crowd to also help all undocumented immigrants, including her parents. "Wouldn’t you risk everything for your kids to have a better future?"
The nearly two-hour long rally was punctuated by chants in English and Spanish, including "Yes, we can," and "Si, se puede."
Jean Stephenson of Salt Lake City marched with a sign printed with butterflies, a symbol of migration. "I’m here supporting all these young people who should not be sent out of this country."
Stephenson said Americans "need to live by our values" but the county’s leaders are "living by evil and greed. I think it started with the (presidential) campaign. There’s very few of us who didn’t come from immigrants."