Immigrant activists put lives on the line to spotlight deportations

Immigrant activists put lives on the line to spotlight deportations
Supporters of the undocumented immigrant activists who crossed into Mexico rallied in Chicago on July 22. Photo by Juan Labreche.

Three young immigrants are risking their lives in the United States to bring attention to an issue they say has gotten woefully little play in the immigration debate – deportations.

As part of a campaign called Bring Them Home, led by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a trio of undocumented U.S.-based activists, including Chicago-based Lulu Martinez, flew into Mexico, despite having no guarantee they would be allowed back into the U.S. The plan was to meet with six Mexico-based activists who had at one point been undocumented in the United States after being brought to the country as children, and have either been deported or left the U.S.

The goal of the campaign is to bring back into the United States all nine people and call for all deported immigrants, or those who willingly left because being undocumented gave them few economic choices, the option to return to the United States.

Photo by Juan Labreche.

On July 22, under the watchful eyes of international media, the nine immigrants attempted to cross back into the United States through the Nogales border in Arizona. Now, like tens of thousands of other immigrants, they are being detained in an immigration detention center.

A Senate immigration bill, passed on June 27, and then sent to the House, has several provisions for immigrants who have been deported or are in deportation proceedings, like those the undocumented activists are bringing attention to.  Gregory Chen, director of advocacy with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, broke down the bill for The Chicago Reporter.

For someone who was previously deported but came back into the country illegally, the immigration bill would allow the person to apply for Registered Provisional Immigrant status, which an immigrant must hold for 10 years before he or she is eligible to apply for a green card. Usually, entering the country without papers twice could be, or, “is considered…” a felony, Chen explained.

Photo by Juan Labreche. 

The bill also opens up the opportunity for an individual who has already been deported, or is in deportation proceedings, to come back or stay in the United States by applying to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver to apply for the Registered Provisional Immigrant status. To be eligible for that, a person must have a parent or spouse in the United States with a green card, a child who is a U.S. citizen, or was brought to the country as a young child.

For an immigrant facing deportation, Chen says, judges will be given increased discretion to decide the fate of an immigrant who appears before them in court. However, he said, the role of an immigration judge is already so restrictive that additional discretion may not help much; and increasingly tough standards for starting on a path to citizenship under the new bill could curtail what judges can do even further. “Even though immigration judges make impactful decisions,” Chen says, they have little individual authority.

“AILA supports the importance of having these provisions,” says Chen, especially for “people who have family here and really only know the United States as their only home.”

Lulu’s mom. Photo by Juan Labreche.

But Chen cautions that what may sound good on paper doesn’t always translate into reality. Prosecutorial discretion, which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents or trial attorneys to consider the ties an individual has to the United States before deciding to put them into deportation proceedings, has had little effect. A November 2012 study by the American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the majority of ICE offices self-reported that they hadn’t implemented discretion into the work, and few followed the correct procedures.

“Grant rates of prosecutorial discretion are extremely rare,” Chen says. The discretionary changes “are not something which I think is going to open up a huge number of cases.”

On July 25, three days after the nine activists were taken into immigration custody, Lulu Martinez’s mother, Maria Martinez, and three other activists held a sit-in at the Chicago office of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). The goal was to pressure Gutierrez to help secure the release of the nine activists. Gutierrez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo by Juan Labreche.

Nico Gonzalez, press contact for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance on the ground in Chicago, said that how politicians support the detained activists is a test. “If you can’t stand behind these [activists], how is our community supposed to believe that you can stand behind 11 million” undocumented people in the United States and fight for their interests, Gonzalez asked.

On July 30, Maria Martinez, went on a hunger strike to protest the continuing detention of the nine activists. As of August 6, the nine activists are still detained.

Watch this video of Lulu Martinez from Mexico City, in which she speaks about her return to Mexico for the first time since she was a young child, and promises her family in the United States she will come home. 


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    It is ashamed that the greatest nation on the face of the earth is behaving so racial against humanity, America needs to come to their senses before we loose the grip..of our nation. PO.
    Esteban Burgoa, United states Veteran..

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