Senate remains untouched by ‘frozen students’

By Carlos Mayorga and Rochelle McConkie

Several dozen U students stood “frozen in time” in a silent protest at the Utah State Capitol rotunda on Monday in opposition to several pieces of legislation that would limit the rights of undocumented immigrants, including a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Students held different poses for five minutes to symbolize how the bills would put some Utahns’ dreams on hold. One student protested against the tuition-repealing bill by dressing in graduation garb with “No to HB 241” written on her cap. She reached out to another student to receive her diploma but was still feet away from grasping it.

Some protesters spread masking tape over their mouths, while others held up signs that read “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “No human is illegal.”

“Anti-immigrant bills are literally stopping us from achieving our dreams,” organizers wrote in a statement passed around to onlookers before and after the protest.

Students hoped to express their message to lawmakers who were on their way to afternoon floor sessions. Hours after the protest, the Senate passed Senate Bill 81, which contains a number of illegal immigration reform measures, including empowering state and local law enforcement officers to act as U.S. immigration agents, establishing a Fraudulent Documents Identification Unit in the Utah Office of the Attorney General, forcing public employers and contractors to authenticate the immigration status of each employee and making it a Class A misdemeanor to transport undocumented immigrants for financial gain or to conceal, harbor or shelter the undocumented immigrants.

The bill was amended five times before it was replaced by a substitute bill and was amended twice again on the floor yesterday. The amendments, such as one which would push back the implementation date to July 1, 2009, so an immigration task force could look into the issues, were meant to soften the bill. Earlier this month, the legislators removed the in-state tuition repeal for undocumented students from the bill. Senators passed the bill with a vote of 24 to five.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said he was speaking “from his heart” when he urged senators to pass the bill, arguing that the legislation was a matter of obeying the law.

“You can’t select the laws you wish to obey and the laws you wish to ignore,” Hickman said.

Hickman chastised the federal government for “failing miserably” on the issue of illegal immigration and urged the state to step up to address the issue.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, voted against the bill, saying undocumented immigrants have constitutional rights, and the bill would create more problems than it would solve.

“On one hand, this nation puts out a ‘No trespassing’ sign — you are not welcome — and on the other hand, we put out a ‘Help wanted sign’ where we say, ‘We have work for you to do and jobs that cannot be filled domestically,'” Romero said. “We don’t exactly invite them to participate in our communities…by labeling them temporary workers.”

He said racial profiling and discrimination would result from the bill, not only affecting undocumented individuals but those who might look like they are undocumented.

Some student protestors displayed signs opposing SB 81 because of the effects it would have on undocumented individuals and the judicial process.

“I can’t call the police. They have a new agenda,” one student wrote on long pieces of masking tape that she taped to her arms in opposition to the bill.

Theresa Martinez, U assistant vice president for academic outreach, attended the protest with several other U faculty members in support of the student protestors. Martinez has actively lobbied the legislature to oppose legislation that would make undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition. A senate committee is scheduled to vote on the bill, House Bill 241, today.

“I think it is important for senators to know that their legislation impacts real people who have real concerns,” Martinez said. “I hope senators and representatives take notice. We should listen to our young people.”

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