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Barton Glasser, Deseret News
Marcia Walker, left, Danielle Thorsted and Judy Lord sing at an interfaith event in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday.

Religious leaders of Salt Lake City, along with members of their flocks gathered at the Gallivan Center Friday evening to show support for immigrants and their families.

To welcome Unitarian Universalists from across the United States for general assembly meetings in Salt Lake City, a Day of Witness was held to raise awareness of the issues immigrant families are facing across the United States. Speakers at the event were critical of Utah's SB81, a bill that establishes new requirements for businesses that contract with the state to screen employees for legal presence status and calls for an immigration enforcement role for state and local law enforcement agencies. They expressed fears the measure would only divide and ostracize immigrant communities. SB81 will take effect in Utah on July 1. Its implementation was delayed for a year to address concerns.

With the new law looming, discussions and debates on the nuances of immigration are happening every day in kitchens, churches and neighborhoods across the state, said The Rev. Thomas Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. However, many conversations are often lacking compassion, a tool Goldsmith said is inherent to understanding.

"Our faith has not only a set of beliefs and hopes, but values, core values," said Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of Utah's Episcopal Diocese. "And they start with justice, they are love, they are compassion and all of those things we need to call forth in ourselves and in our communities in order to address this grave situation we are now facing."

Bishop Irish said that SB81 ignores due process and encourages racial profiling without providing immigrants the ability to contest charges.

"That haunts me more than any other aspect of it." Bishop Irish said. "It's what America stands for and it's what our constitution stands for."

The Most Rev. John C. Wester of the local Catholic Diocese recalled federal raids in Utah that tore immigrant families apart, often separating children from their parents. He called for more comprehensive immigration reform that would support the family unit and not harm it.

Tony Yapias, of Proyecto Latino de Utah said that he is receiving numerous calls every day from families in Utah who fear SB81 will impact their daily lives. Calls from undocumented people have cauterized the confusion surrounding SB81 for Yapias. He said callers have asked questions such as: "Should I call the police if I witness a crime?" or "Should I call police if I am the victim of a crime?"

Immigrants don't come to America to fear the government, yet Yapias said that is exactly what SB81 causes.

"I hope all departments will stay out of enforcement because it's in the best interest of the community and public safety that officers can do the job they were hired to do." Some police agencies, including Salt Lake City, have declared they will not deputize officers specifically to enforce immigration laws.

To help spread word and drum up support for immigrant families across the U.S. the public advocacy group, Standing on the Side of Love, was at the event to help organize and encourage the crowd of about 300 people to stand for human rights.

"We're just trying to live our faith, that all humans were created equal and have the right to vote," said Naomi Suzuki, a resident of California attending the Witness. "Love can unite us all."

E-MAIL: cnorlen@desnews.com