Young Immigrants Stage a Risky Border Protest

Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2013

Lizbeth Mateo paid her tuition Sunday for Santa Clara Law School, where classes begin next month. On Monday, she paused to send the school an email.

“I’m letting them know I may not make it in time,” she said.

The reason for her delay: an unorthodox—and risky—protest at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mateo, 29, who was brought into the United States illegally at age 10, voluntarily flew back across the border recently in a protest aimed at recognizing the thousands of people deported from the United States over the last five years as the Obama administration has struggled to adopt a long-range program for overhauling immigration laws.

The protest Monday focused on the U.S. border station in Nogales. Mateo and two other young immigrants who had been brought into the U.S. as children asked to be admitted legally across the border they had surreptitiously traversed so many years ago and had spent much of their lives trying to avoid.

The immigration debate has focused on how a sweeping bill now in Congress might affect an estimated 11 million people who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. Lost in the debate, Mateo and other protesters say, are those already expelled from the country. Deportations have increased from just under 300,000 in 2007 to nearly 400,000 in 2011, according to federal statistics.


Monday’s action quickly grew as about 30 others spontaneously joined the petitioners at the border, taking activists by surprise. Organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the immigrants planned to ask for humanitarian parole, which would allow them into the country, or, failing that, asylum.

As part of the planned protest, the trio was joined by six other immigrants who had returned to Mexico more than a year ago. The nine were questioned and transferred to a holding facility in Florence, Ariz. Activists in contact with the attorney for the youths said that they were denied humanitarian parole and that immigration officials would consider their request for asylum while holding them in Florence.


By returning to Mexico voluntarily, the three immigrants have put themselves at considerable risk. Under an immigration package backed by the Obama administration, young immigrants deported could apply to return to the U.S. Those who leave voluntarily would not have that option, immigration experts say.


Immigration authorities offered Saavedra and Mateo the chance to apply for the Obama administration’s deferred deportation program, which allows immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children to stay in the U.S., at least temporarily.

Both declined, saying they wanted their cases adjudicated—a way of putting a spotlight on the nation’s immigration system.


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