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Vigil held to advocate for immigration reform focuses on children

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Posted at 10:28 PM, Jul 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-10 00:28:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Business leaders and activists from across the country, including in Utah, participated in a National Action Day Wednesday, all stemming from a massive influx of undocumented children coming across the border.

Just since October, some 52,000 children, mostly from Central America, have come into the United States unaccompanied by their parents.

A group of roughly 40 activists gathered at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City Wednesday evening to show solidarity for children who've died while escaping violence, drug culture and extreme poverty in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The group lit candles and held signs welcoming the children and prayed at the corner of 700 East and 900 South.

"Those kids are refugees, it's different to be an immigrant, I'm an immigrant," said activist Elvira Diaz.

"A lot of people angry about it, and I think they're not understanding what this issue is," said Karla Chavez, another supporter.

The group considers the roughly 60,000 to 80,000 children expected to cross the border in 2014 as refugees, not simply undocumented immigrants.

The Obama Administration calls it a "humanitarian crisis." Critics say President Obama invited the surge by halting deportations of minors who were here illegally a couple of years ago.

"The direct, predictable foreseeable consequence of granting that amnesty is the number of children, unaccompanied children began to skyrocket," said Republican Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas

Last week, the town of Murrieta in Southern California became the center for the immigration debate with protestors blocking government busses bringing in undocumented immigrants for processing. The crisis has also become tense in Arizona and in Texas, where the President visited Wednesday. President Obama wants Congress to approve nearly $4 billion in emergency funds to confront the issue, but even some Democrats say they want a clear plan and accountability for the money before signing off. With the plan unapproved, business leaders in Utah are calling on Congress to act now on immigration reform, saying the issue impacts Utah's economy.

"(It's) a huge economic issue for our businesses and we really need to get some movement because we have literally thousands of jobs that are unfilled because we can't find qualified workers," said Val Hale, who is the President and CEO, of Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce says survey results show most Americans and 75 percent of Utahns want Congress to overhaul the U.S. Immigration Policy this year.