Lizbeth Mateo, who is registered to attend Santa Clara Law School in California this fall, took part in a risky border protest on July 22 with other activists who had all been brought illegally to the U.S. as children. The protest started when Mateo and two others flew into Mexico and then tried to reenter the United States by crossing the border. Other immigrants and a large group of supporters, including Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), which works on migration issues on the U.S.-Mexico border, joined them.
The young people, who call communities across the United States their home, presented themselves to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the at the Morley Gate in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Fr. Carroll, along with three other staff members of KBI and other religious leaders, gathered near the border with the nine immigrants.
“I and other religious leaders accompanied them and went through the gate with them as part of the action. At the same time, there were people gathered on the U.S. side of the border in support of the DREAMers and calling for an end to the deportations,” Fr. Carroll said.
The young men and women walked to the official pedestrian crossing point and requested humanitarian parole to rejoin their family members and communities within the United States.
Their request for humanitarian parole was denied, and Mateo and the other immigrants are now being held in Eloy, Ariz., while their case is considered. According to Fr. Carroll, it’s not clear how long they will be there, and he said they are planning to apply for asylum.
Mateo and other protesters say that those already expelled from the country have been lost in the current immigration debate. Deportations have increased from just under 300,000 in 2007 to nearly 400,000 in 2011, according to federal statistics.
“We should not forget the people who have been deported,” Mateo said.
Fr. Carroll said, “The protest has drawn attention to the effect of deportations on families and on young people. It causes separation of family members and it draws attention to the urgency to passing immigration reform that unites families and gives young immigrants the opportunity to realize their dreams. We’re asking that they be released to their families in the U.S.”
The three immigrants have put themselves at risk by returning to Mexico voluntarily, reports The Los Angeles Times. 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.
According to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which organized the protest, some of the protesters, including Mateo, are now on a hunger strike until they are released.
Jesuit Father Michael Engh, president of Santa Clara University where Mateo plans to start law school in the fall, released a statement of support for the protesters, calling Mateo “one of our courageous incoming law students” and saying he had “contacted our local representatives requesting their assistance with this matter on behalf of our student.”
Earlier this month, 20 presidents of U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities signed a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives urging for comprehensive immigration reform as the country’s immigration system continues to separate families and “trap aspiring Americans in the shadows.” [The Los Angeles Times, Kino Border Initiative]