SALT LAKE CITY -- For a crowd that’s used to being told, 'No, they can’t,' there was no translation necessary to understand what they were celebrating Friday.
“Si se puede!” yelled one man, standing in front of the Utah State Capitol.
In response to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, dozens of immigrants who have been living in secrecy publicly announced their support for the decision.
“I am here for my daughter, for her future,” said Bernice, a 17-year resident of the state.
As an undocumented immigrant, she has been living in fear of losing her daughter through deportation.
“Now, thanks to this new law, I woke up this morning in tears,” Bernice said. “These tears are not from sadness, these tears are an expression of happiness, an expression of 17 years wait.”
She’s not alone.
According to a new study from the Migration Policy Institute, Bernice is one of about 48,000 immigrants in Utah who could escape temporary deportation under the president’s new plan. Those totals mean an estimated 55 percent of the immigrants living in Utah will be impacted by the changes.
“People came, they got established, they had families,” said Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah.
The study shows that 36,000 people are now eligible for the Deferred Action Program, which applies to parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Another 12,000 people are eligible for the now expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which helps children brought to the U.S. illegally.
Perlich ties the high percentage of undocumented immigrants in the state to the high number of jobs that were available when many of them came here in the 1990s.
“Remember we were getting ready for the winter Olympic Games, we're building Grand America, we're building ski resorts, we're building I-15 and all kinds of things and then there was a huge housing boom, too,” Perlich said. “There were a lot of opportunities for people.”
But the policies that will dictate those workers’ futures in the U.S. remain up for debate.
Utah’s congressional delegation slammed the president for his move and for not working with Congress, including representative-elect Mia Love, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti.
FOX 13 News contacted all four of Utah’s representatives to find out if they agreed with any parts of the president’s plans, but they did not respond.
The thousands in Utah who are hoping to gain a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation will still have to go through an application process.