Northern Utah marches in solidarity with refugees, immigrants

Saturday , February 04, 2017 - 4:18 PM18 comments

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A swarm of Northern Utah residents gathered in downtown Ogden once again to protest the words and actions of the nation’s new president.

Weber County Democrats organized the Ogden March for Refugees and Immigrants on Saturday to show solidarity with those born outside the country. The march down Ogden’s 25th Street began just hours after a federal court declared unconstitutional President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” executive order that barred refugees and travelers from seven majority Muslim countries.

The event also fell two weeks after the Northern Utah Unity Rally that served a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington, a protest of the president’s treatment of women.

“There’s a lot of xenophobic policies coming out of Washington,” said Jesus Lopez, spokesman for the Weber County Democrats. “Here in Weber County, we’re a very diverse community. Ogden’s at least a third Latino, so most of these people come from immigrant families.”

Northern Utah was built by the hands of immigrants and refugees, Lopez said, from the Chinese who helped build the railroad, to Mormon pioneers fleeing religious persecution, to migrant workers contributing to the local economy, to the 60,000 refugees from more than 20 countries currently living in the state.

“This is a demonstration of maintaining that tradition,” he said.

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The march started at Ogden’s Union Station. Attendees walked down 25th Street to the Ogden Municipal Building, holding signs of support and chanting “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”

Ogden resident Di Allison said she doubts the many rallies held in Utah so far are turning the heads of politicians. She marched instead for the people of her community.

“I think when people see that there is a mass that supports their values and their feelings, they’ll become more active and engaged,” Allison said. “And I think they need to stay engaged.”

Ogden city council member Luis Lopez was among those participating. As a person who immigrated from Mexico two decades ago, he said he marched because “it’s the right thing to do.”

“We’re a nation of immigrants,” he said. “Marches like these — I think it makes a difference, because we have to follow our hearts. People bring about change.”

President Trump has taken a tough stance on undocumented immigrants and vowed to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

RELATED: ‘Undocumented and Uncertain’ — Northern Utah responds to Trump’s deportation vow

Quetzalli Vallesteros immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She brought her three daughters and son to the rally to show them they weren’t alone in their concerns and fears about the political climate. 

“I think it honestly shows everyone who is wanting to make a change know there’s a community that also cares,” Vallesteros said. “There’s a lot of us. It gives us support. It gives us hope.”

Vallesteros said she felt especially motivated to support the march after her 15-year-old daughter, Naomi, was bullied at school.

“They say ‘I can’t wait until you get deported, I can’t wait until the wall’s built,’” said Naomi, who was born in the U.S. and is a citizen.

Naomi and her mother also marched at the Northern Utah Unity Rally with her mother in January.

“I went because I wanted to empower myself,” she said.

Lina Wembi addressed the rally crowd from the steps of the municipal building, sharing her story of fleeing to the U.S. as a refugee from the Congo with her nine children in 2005. She now has a degree in social work and is an Ogden case manager for Catholic Community Services. 

“You can make a difference,” she said. “Don’t give up because you don’t speak English, or because you’re a single mom, or because (of) this, no. You can do more than what you’re doing right now.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.

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