Hispanic community leader Tony Yapias wants pro-immigration Utahns to get involved in grass-roots politics.

Looking ahead to the partisan neighborhood precinct meetings this Tuesday, Yapias is encouraging Hispanics and other supporters to attend the meetings and ask to become delegates.

He met with a handful of people Friday at the Centro Civico Mexicano to explain how to locate their neighborhood precinct meeting and how delegates are able to influence potential candidates. Yapias encouraged them to spread the information to their friends.

"At the local level we can have a great impact," he said. "I've learned that delegates are the focus of attention for candidates. They want to court you first."

Yapias said several bills debated in the last legislative session were aimed at limiting the freedoms of Hispanic immigrants. He hopes that by becoming more involved politically at the grass-roots level, immigration supporters will be able to stop antagonistic bills earlier.

"We have been ignored, and that's why we need to be at the table," he said.

Three people who were recently naturalized or who will soon become citizens attended the meeting to learn how to maximize the power of their vote this year. Dolores Crespo said that she has been disappointed in her representatives from Kearns and wants to elect new people. She said she believes the incumbents are uninterested or incapable of helping Hispanics or the poor in her community.

Claudia DeBrunet will become a citizen in June and said she feels that anti-immigration proposals like building a wall on the border with Mexico are akin to the Nazi's efforts to contain Polish Jews in ghettos.

"They are treating us like criminals, and it's not right," she said.

Ruben Jimenez, a former director of the state Office of Hispanic Affairs, said he came to the meeting because he is angry and feels the political mood toward immigrants and minorities has been vicious and vindictive. He said recent debates such as whether to allow the children of undocumented workers to pay in-state college tuition are disgusting and "very very frightening."

Joanne Milner, education partnership coordinator for Salt Lake City mayor's office, attended the meeting in support and said that she first became politically involved because a Hispanic neighbor who was running for office requested her support as a delegate.

"It's at the grass-roots level that we will make the difference," she said.

Milner said that at many precinct meetings only one or two people show up in addition to the precinct officer. Getting elected to be a delegate is often as simple as showing up.


E-mail: akirk@desnews.com