Much at stake for Latino Parkites
Pinebrook resident Lindsay Adams wasn’t among the thousands of protesters who demonstrated for and against illegal immigrants Sunday, however, the debate hit home when she tried to buy lunch at Taco Bell the next day.
According to the sign posted on the restaurant door Monday, there had been an employee "walkout," Adams said.
"There were probably 10 cars lined up and the first car was still stuck at the menu board," she said. "It doesn’t hit home until your daily routine is interrupted and then you start really questioning, how do I feel on this issue?"
Employees at the Kimball Junction Taco Bell told their managers they planned to skip work Monday to participate in an immigration rally in Salt Lake City, Taco Bell assistant manager Gabriel Avila said.
"It was impossible to keep up the business with one or two people here just the managers," Avila said, adding that the store opened for about two hours on Monday. "They said they were going to go to the rally and that was basically it. They’re trying to get the rights to get something that they need."
Police estimate that roughly 25,000 people marched up State Street Sunday to draw attention to the role illegal immigrants play in society. People on both sides of the debate continued demonstrations Monday with rallies downtown during rush hour.
"We’re not criminals," Park City High School student Modesto Lopez said during the march on Sunday. "How can students like us be criminals?"
The employee walkout this week at Kimball Junction might show just how much Park City’s tourist economy relies on cheap, immigrant labor.
For years, with a wink and a nod, hotels and restaurants in Summit County have illegally hired undocumented workers, says Shelley Weiss, an advocate for Latinos living in Summit County. If controversial legislation being debated by the U.S. Senate is passed, those employees could become criminals overnight.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 4437, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin. The legislation calls for more secure fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border and makes anyone who enters America illegally a felon.
"We just want to keep studying here and we want to have a future here," said Park City High School student Elsa Salguero while demonstrating in Salt Lake on Sunday.
Senators so far have rejected H.R. 4437, but Congress adjourned for two weeks April 7 without reforming any immigration laws.
"One of the things that makes this country great is our tradition of free speech and the ability of each and every citizen to petition the government on issues of importance," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, responding to the size of the protests. "That being said, it is clear we will only be able to pass an immigration bill if there is more consensus, and such consensus I believe, must begin with security at our borders and then a compassionate and legal solution of these problems."
But Park City Public Works employee Hugo Hinojos said he felt compelled to march because as an American citizen he often is treated as if he is in the U.S. illegally.
"We feel bad," Hinojos said. "Just because you have the Mexican blood they want to treat you like we’re here as criminals. We love this country."
While shouting "yes we can" in Spanish Hinojos joined his co-worker, Genaro Armendariz, in the march to Capitol Hill.
"We support the American people too," said Armendariz, a Snyderville resident. "We’re not racist, everybody is the same for us."
Meanwhile, Ecker Hill Middle School student Ivonet Castro challenged lawmakers to provide illegal immigrants living in the United States opportunities to stay and work.
"We don’t get jobs if we don’t get papers," Castro said during an interview Sunday on Capitol Hill. "We’re not here to do any danger or anything, we’re here to work."
Castro’s uncle Ricardo Portillo agreed.
"People come here to give a better life to their families," said Portillo, who is a Park City resident.
Salt Lake City police officer Dax Shane, a Park City High graduate who lives in Francis, praised both sides for the peaceful demonstrations. During two days of protests, police made no arrests.
"They were incredible," Shane said. "We had one outburst out of the 25,000 people who were walking by where police had to take action."
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Sales-tax collections in Park City in July beat City Hall projections by a wide margin, providing a key data point that illustrates a nascent economic comeback of sorts from the spring business shutdowns.