Messy lives make immigration debate a messy business

Published: Monday, April 22 2013 7:06 p.m. MDT

Yolanda Sandoval sheds tears as she holds her grandson Issac Guzman as she joins supporters of her daughter Brenda Guzman-Sandoval gather Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at Congressman Jim Matheson's West Jordan, Utah office trying to gain assistance in stopping her deportation.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — At a recent meeting at Day Riverside Library, a group of immigrants from several Latin American countries met to discuss what they hope comes with comprehensive immigration reform.

Among the many questions that flew in both English and Spanish came this most basic yet problematic inquiry: "Who should get immigration reform?"

One man, who has worked in construction and other labor jobs, suggested the hope for immigrants lies with the younger generation, especially those trained in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Then a woman in her 50s spoke up. She said she has worked more than a decade in a hotel washing sheets and cleaning bathrooms, saving what she could.

"¿Y que de mi?" she asked calmly. "What about me?"

Her question is among those at the heart of the immigration debate playing out this week in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country in small gatherings of those who came to the country illegally and who now are trying to understand how their lives could be improved.

The difficulty of the process was on display Monday as angry words were exchanged at the Judiciary Committee as it began its second hearing on legislation designed to strengthen border security, allow tens of thousands of both highly skilled workers and low-skilled workers into the country and eventually provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the country illegally.

The anger centered on controversy surrounding the two young men accused of bombing the Boston Marathon. Both immigrants to the country, the attack has cast a new dimension on immigration reform and some fear it could hijack the process.

But those concerns were far removed from the hall at Day Riverside Library. When the discussion ended, the nameless woman wondering whether immigration reform would ever benefit someone like her returned home to prepare for another long day at work, leaving without an answer to her small but complex question.

"When we're talking about human beings, we shouldn't be as inflexible as sometimes we've been, especially on immigration issues," immigration attorney and activist Mark Alvarez said. "We shouldn't separate immigrants into good immigrants and bad immigrants ... but I know at some point, for practical reasons, we're going to have some kind of argument about that."

The question of who should benefit from immigration reform was raised again days later when members of the Salt Lake Dream Team mobilized on April 3 to plead on behalf of Brenda Guzman, a young mother who they were told would be deported to her native Mexico in less than 24 hours, leaving behind five U.S. citizen children.

Yolanda Sandoval, Guzman's mother, wept openly as she hovered over her grandchildren, ranging in age from barely a year to 6 years old.

"She's not a criminal," Saldoval repeated several times in Spanish, speaking on her daughter's behalf while she was detained at the Spanish Fork immigration and customs enforcement detention center. "She just needed to get diapers and buy food for her children."

But Guzman has a criminal record.

Reportedly facing eviction at the age of 22, Guzman was arrested and convicted of providing what she said was an invented Social Security number to a payday lender. The number belonged to a young boy in Vernal, according to court documents.

Guzman pleaded guilty to reduced charges of attempted forgery and attempted identity theft, both class A misdemeanors. However, in the eyes of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, those charges remained classified as aggravated felonies, qualifying Guzman for expedited removal when she failed to appear at two review hearings for her case.

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