SALT LAKE CITY — Thirteen years ago, Silvia Salguero needed help.
She was graduating from Park City High School, scholarships in hand, and had been accepted to the University of Utah. She came to Utah in 1995 from Michoacán, Mexico, and set her sights on being the first member of her family to get a college education, despite being in the country illegally.
But when the day came to pay for her first semester of classes, Salguero discovered she didn't qualify for in-state tuition. There was no way she could afford school at a public university.
Salguero reached out to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and he listened.
Hatch joined then-Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, in presenting 2001 legislation that would make it possible for Salguero and students like her to pay in-state tuition. The bill failed, but the 2002 Utah Legislature passed HB144, which exempted qualifying students from the out-of-state tuition requirement.
Now, Salguero is asking Hatch, a potential swing vote on the Senate's immigration reform bill, to help her again.
"I encourage all of our Utah senators and representatives to help fix, in a positive, more productive and humane way, the broken immigration system of this great nation, which I call home, and my children call home," Salguero said Wednesday, shaking with emotion even as steadying hands reached out and gripped her arms and shoulders.
She told her story Wednesday to a small group of the Salt Lake Dream Team and others in Salt Lake City's Latino community. They signed letters to be delivered Thursday to Hatch's office and lit candles representing the flicker of hope they are trying to keep burning as the Senate debates the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.
Hatch voted Tuesday in favor of advancing the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor, but he hasn't committed his support for the final vote, saying the bill still needs "improvement."
The bill would create a 13-year path to citizenship for those in country illegally, contingent upon a plan to secure U.S. borders.
Hatch presented a set of amendments for the bill, raising the cap on H-1B worker visas, requiring biometric data collection at 10 major U.S. airports, heightening penalties in prosecution of marijuana grown on public lands, and eliminating the Amerasian Homecoming Act visa program.
Local DREAMers are disappointed that Hatch may withhold support for the bill, even after helping it advance out of committee and saying he feels compassion toward immigrants, Dream Team member Loren Ruiz said.
"We want Sen. Hatch to stand up for Utah families," Ruiz said. "It's time for him to take a stand and lead on immigration reform that keeps families like ours together and reunites families that have been separated."
Following presentations by Salguero and others asking for immigration reform, the group wrote messages in English and Spanish on posters also destined for Hatch.
One poster asked "What is your dream?" prompting one participant to write, "To see my parents retire." Another was labeled, "What opportunities has Utah given you?" A mother in the group answered, "To have a beautiful house, to eat good and live better than in my country."
On a third poster, Salguero and others left messages for families who have been separated through deportation.
"You are always in our thoughts," Salguero wrote in Spanish. "Thanks to you, we feel stronger to fight for our rights."