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Hundreds of miles from the border, Utahns showed their support Wednesday night for the unaccompanied children who have crossed into the United States through Mexico.

About four dozen people held a vigil in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City and said the children, who are mostly from Central America and are fleeing violence in their home countries, should be allowed to stay and that families should not be separated.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been picked up by immigration authorities since last fall, according to the federal government. They are being housed in shelters and dormitories until they are reunited with family members.

Vigil participants held signs, including ones that said "Welcome children to our country. Mi casa es su casa," and "Let the children stay."

Victor Puertas said the children are making the risky trip to save their lives and that they should not be detained or deported. He disputed that the flow of children into the country is a humanitarian crisis and insisted that the crisis is U.S. immigration policy.

Ana Cañenguez, who lives in Garland, said she came to the United States from El Salvador without papers to better provide for her family. Two of her sons followed in 2010 because they were threatened by violent gangs, but got caught at the border; her remaining two children later also tried to cross the border undetected but were picked up.

They were allowed to stay in Utah with their mother while their cases were appealed.

Extreme poverty and fear are causing children to flee their homes, she said through an interpreter.

"Children are running away [from danger]," Cañenguez said, "so they can become safe."

Cañenguez and the four children have been ordered to leave the United States but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not taking action to enforce the order.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC