On Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported an undocumented youth activist after she failed to provide proof of “credible fear” of being sent back to Mexico. Rocio Hernandez Perez, 23, was a member of a group of 34 undocumented youths who purposely crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after having been previously barred from re-entering the country. Eleven other undocumented immigrants were released, pending an immigration judge decision, on Tuesday night after officials found proof of “credible fear” if they returned to their country of origin.
Perez is the first immigrant in the activist group, known as the “DREAM 30” team, to be deported. The group consists of so-called DREAMer undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. They traveled late last month from Mexico into the Laredo, Texas port of entry to protest the United States’ deportation policies.
All 34 immigrants of the “DREAM 30” team were detained, but nine individuals who were parents or minors were immediately released on parole. The breakdown of the remaining 25 immigrants is as follows:
Approved for “credible fear,” but still have pending cases before the immigration judge:
17 individuals: 11 immigrants released on Tuesday night.
Denied for “credible fear” and still have pending cases before the immigration judge:
Seven individuals: three immigrants have scheduled immigration hearings on Friday.
Denied for “credible fear”, went up before an immigration judge, and deported:
One immigrant: Perez.
Perez’s lawyer, David Bennion, explains that deportation doesn’t make sense. She came to the country at the age of four, graduated from a high school in North Carolina. According to Bennion, Perez did not have a criminal record and left in 2009 to pursue her future in Mexico because of “attrition by the [United States] government’s harsh policies.”
Perez could have qualified for “prosecutorial discretion,” based on a 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo which directs federal authorities to focus deportation efforts on criminal immigrants. Instead Bennion claims that officials chose to make an example out of Perez for “political motivations” to deter future activists from attempting to cross the Mexican border in the same high-profile way.
The Texas regional ICE public affairs officer Leticia Zamarripa which handled Perez’s case, wrote, “The individual in question, a Mexican citizen, was afforded full due process under law and the opportunity to present the facts of her case before an impartial immigration judge. After a review of the case by the immigration judge, the individual was determined ineligible for immigration relief.”
Perez said she would face impending danger in Mexico. Her aunt and uncle had both been kidnapped by the Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, and Bennion believes that her “Americanness” would leave her vulnerable to the same fate.
Immigrant activists like Perez present a headache for administration officials. The “DREAM 30” team patterned their protest after a group of nine undocumented youths crossed the southern border in July to test the Obama administration‘s commitment to deporting criminal immigrants instead of non-criminal ones.
The members of the “DREAM 9” team were all found to have credible fear and released, but only on parole pending their asylum hearing, and only after much public scrutiny and political pressure. Some immigrants like the two “DREAM 9” and “DREAM 30” groups are frustrated that Congress has not moved on immigration reform so they use civil disobedience protests like these to force the issue into national attention.
But others think that it’s an ill-conceived plan. Earlier in the summer, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, (D-IL), a long-time immigration rights activist, said, “I do not agree with the actions taken by the DREAM 9 because current immigration law is not on their side. But even having said that, I am working with their attorney and trying to get them out of detention.”
Still, Bennion is worried that the remaining seven immigrants whose asylum applications were rejected may face the same fate as Perez. He said that unless a politician intervenes, the judge may be unsympathetic to these immigrants– three of whom will know their fate on Friday when they must plead their cases before an immigration judge.
This post has been updated to remove some misleading language about the details of individual cases, and to correct the following: The DREAM 9 were not granted asylum. They were deemed to have “credible fear” and released on parole pending their asylum hearing.