'Dream 9' released from immigration detention
After asylum claims were provisionally approved by U.S. immigration officials, nine Mexican nationals detained two weeks ago were released and allowed to remain in the United States pending a decision on their claims.
The young immigrants were transferred from an immigration detention center in Eloy by bus and released to a crowd of activists and family members who gathered around the "Dream 9" at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in downtown Tucson on Wednesday afternoon.
Claudia Amaro, 37, stood with her son and her mother, Elvia Amaro, and spoke to reporters about her reasons for joining the protest.
"I'm a little bit different," she said. "I went back to Mexico and nobody was talking about the Dream Act, and everyone was talking about people under 30 years old. But there are others who are older than that, and I want to represent those people who deserve to be in the United States."
Though originally from Mexico, Amaro grew up in Wichita, Kan. "I'm like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz; I want to go home."
On Tuesday, immigration asylum officials found that all nine had "credible fear" that they would be persecuted or tortured in Mexico and allowed them to stay in the country pending the asylum process, which will take at least six months for a full review.
On July 22, the five women and four men committed to a risky protest at the port of entry in Nogales when they intentionally crossed into the United States into the hands of authorities, who immediately arrested all nine.
Named for the Dream Act — which would grant citizenship to the estimated 1.7 million young people brought to the United States as children — the Dream 9 hoped to highlight the realities of immigration and enforcement by the Obama administration.
The Dream Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) has bounced around the Congress since its re-introduction in 2009, but it remains stalled in the U.S. House. In June 2012, President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a stop-gap measure that gives immigration officials the ability to defer deportation. As of May 2013, nearly 300,000 undocumented immigrants were given reprieve under this system.
But some Dream 9 protestors don't fit the criteria for that program. All decided to make bids for asylum as a political demonstration.
Those detained at the Nogales crossing two weeks ago were Amaro, Lizbeth Mateo, Lulú Martínez, Marco Saavedra, Adriana Gil Diaz, Luis Leon, Maria Peniche, Ceferino Santiago and Mario Alejandro Felix-Garcia, a ninth protester who joined the original eight as they approached the border.
All of the protesters were childhood arrivals in the United States and had lived most of their lives here before returning to Mexico.
Three had been deported: Amaro in 2006, Santiago a month and a half ago and Leon "multiple times," National Immigrant Youth Alliance organizer Mohammad Abdollahi said last week.
Diaz and Peniche had returned to Mexico voluntarily, before the deferred action program was put into place.
Mateo, Martínez and Saavedra remained in the United States; only Martínez was in the process of applying for deferred action when they returned to Mexico in June to prepare for the protest.
While the protesters' claims were given preliminary approval by U.S. authorities, few Mexican nationals win permanent asylum here.
According to Justice Department statistics, only about one percent of asylum claims from Mexico are granted, though Mexican nationals account for more than 20 percent of all requests, leaving a difficult path for the Dream 9.
"This might encourage people to fight in the right way, in the legal way, to be in the country where they grew up," said Amaro.