More than 150 Latino residents in Salt Lake City and about half that many in St. George gathered Saturday to receive help and advice with identification cards, passport problems and other needs.
At the St. George gathering, anti-illegal immigration protesters lined part of St. George Boulevard a block from the St. George Catholic Church, where members of the Guatemalan Consulate in Denver hosted a meeting to help Guatemalans in the area.
Officials with the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City met at Centro Civico Mexicano, near 600 West. The two-hour meeting was sponsored by Proyecto Latino de Utah and Centro Civico Mexicano.
Eusebio Romero Esquivel, the consulate's acting consul, listened to people's concerns about the consulate. He told the crowd to be aware that there have been changes and there's a stricter system in place to get matricular cards and passports. If people plan to visit the consulate, he suggested they call to set up appointments and have the proper paperwork.
"If it's an emergency, let us know. We can find a way to help you," he said.
Mostly, audience members had questions for attorney Silvia Peña about their rights if they are picked up by immigration agents and the possibilities of getting a worker's permit.
Peña offered advice on a few topics. She told residents that if relatives are arrested, family members with a valid ID card can visit them and they shouldn't be asked for their documentation status in Utah. She said to use real names at all times and only use Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to file taxes.
For those in need of legal aid, she suggested that before hiring a lawyer, make sure to get a contract saying exactly what services will be provided and the cost.
Organizers later discussed immigration-related measures being debated by state lawmakers.
In St. George, Alfredo Vasquez Rivera, the Guatemalan consul general, said there are about 400 Guatemalans in southwestern Utah compared with an estimated 8,000 in the Salt Lake City area.
He said the most requested service from the traveling consulate are Guatemalan identification cards and passports, or passport renewals. The national identification cards are useful for opening bank accounts and for Guatemalans to identifying themselves to the police if arrested or to other officials.
In addition to Colorado and Utah, the Denver consulate is responsible for Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota, said Rivera.
The team will be at the St. George church again today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and in Salt Lake City on June 14 and 15.
Rosa Maria Gallardo, the Guatemalan vice consul with the Denver office, who was also in St. George, said the consulate is just doing its job and finds the protesters misinformed.
She said the consul's presence has nothing to do with getting the Guatemalans U.S. citizenship or on welfare rolls.
"I'd explain this to them if they [protesters] ask," Gallardo said.
She said the immigration status of the Guatemalans being served is never brought up. While the Guatemalans were working inside the church's social hall, up to 20 protesters gathered a block away, waving American flags at passing motorists and hoisting placards with anti-illegal immigration messages.
Jim Flohr, the vice chairman of the St. George-based Citizens Council on Illegal Immigration, said issuing the identification cards encourages illegal immigration and employers who pay lower wages.
Jonathan Koski, state leader of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, was also protesting the consulate visit.
"If people are here legally, they could open a bank account and not need [Guatemalan identification cards]," he said. "They [cards] shouldn't be recognized in this country."