After protest, Ogden immigrants, advocates say fight for reform will continue

Thursday , February 23, 2017 - 5:30 AM1 comment

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The debate over immigration reform, the push for change, calls to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country won’t taper any time soon, says Patricia Hortencia-Escamilla.

“This isn’t going to end ever,” she said, seated in her namesake Mexican eatery, Patricia’s Restaurant on south Washington Boulevard in Ogden.

Some of the estimated 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the country may eventually be able to secure legal residency, U.S. citizenship even, she said. 

“But others are going to arrive. It’s never going to end,” said Hortencia-Escamilla, who is originally from Puebla, Mexico.

President Donald Trump made immigration a big issue in campaigning for office last year, vowing to crack down on undocumented immigrants and deport them back to their home countries. That spurred immigrants in the Ogden area and their advocates, increasingly fearful of deportation, to take part in a national protest last week — Day Without Immigrants — variously staying home from work and, among some business operators, closing for the day.

RELATED: As part of Day Without Immigrants protests, Ogden businesses close for the day

Now, as presaged by Hortencia-Escamilla, there’s talk of more action. It comes amid tougher new guidelines announced Tuesday by the Trump administration in dealing with undocumented immigrants that could result in more deportations.

Leon Araujo, who closed his Ogden coffee shop Coffee Links for Day Without Immigrants, and Hortencia-Escamilla, who closed her restaurant, say talk is trickling out in national Spanish-language media outlets about another round of protests on May 1.

Local resident Cirilo Franco, meanwhile, has been working with other immigrant advocates in the Ogden area to organize an event tentatively set for March 13, “Know your rights.” It’s aimed at getting word out to undocumented community about their legal rights, if, say, immigration officials stop them on the street or come to their homes.

“If we can make this happen, I think it will put some calm back in the community,” said Franco, whose grandparents were immigrants from Mexico. Undocumented immigrants “have sleepless nights... They’re always looking behind their backs. Who’s coming?”

Hortencia-Escamilla said the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants are particularly nervous, constantly worried about what will happen to their moms and dads while they’re in school. Will they be detained, deported, will families be split up?

“They’re afraid to go to school because they think when they get home their parents won’t be there,” she said.

Still, it’s unclear what the advocates’ efforts, if they materialize, will yield.

Ramiro Casillas, owner of Costa Azul, a Mexican seafood restaurant in south Ogden, closed his locale on Day Without Immigrants on Feb. 16, prodded by his employees. "My workers told me they wanted to show support for Hispanic families,” he said.

RELATED: Undocumented and Uncertain — Northern Utah Responds to Trump deportation vow

But he says the rule of law here needs to be respected and he’s skeptical efforts like the Feb. 16 initiative will yield results. By closing, by staying home from work, the protesters aimed to underscore the presence and importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

"I don't think one day will have an impact and change the law," said Casillas, originally from the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Even so, if immigrant advocates call for another Day Without Immigrants protest, he may close as a show of solidarity. “Yes, if (my workers) force me, if they call in sick,” he said.

Non-citizens — legal residents, undocumented immigrants and others — number around 8,200 in Ogden as of 2015, nearly 10 percent of the city’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The vast majority are from Latin America.

‘Going to take more’

If another shutdown is called, Hortencia-Escamilla and Araujo would like to see broader participation to better, in their view, show the influence of the immigrant community on the U.S. economy. If carried out effectively, Araujo thinks, immigrants and their backers would all stay home, refrain from spending for a day and keep off the streets.

“I would have liked to have seen nothing, nowhere... complete calm,” Hortencia-Escamilla said. She would’ve like to have seen more businesses shut their doors on Feb. 16 in solidarity with immigrants.

She was disappointed at the Latino-owned business operators who didn’t take part during the protest. 

“Maybe it’s because they don’t think of themselves as immigrants because they’re citizens or they have residency,” she said.

Franco, who’s trying to put together the new advocacy group for Latinos and immigrants, lauded the Feb. 16 initiative. But more direct involvement and civic engagement will be required, he thinks, even among undocumented immigrants.

“It’s great that people did that,” he said. “But it’s going to take more than that.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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