Protesters staged a rally in North Carolina to call for comprehensive immigration reform. The crowd included students who "came out" as undocumented immigrants.
Ten undocumented youths arrested in North Carolina during a immigration rights rally on Tuesday, have been released on bond.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office said that in keeping with the jail's policy to screen everyone who is arrested, the 15 people detained on Tuesday were fingerprinted, photographed and screened to determine whether they are in the country legally.
Mecklenburg County jail officials said they determined that ten of 15 protesters are undocumented. The five who were found to be U.S. citizens were released immediately after processing.
After jail officials confirmed that none of the undocumented youths had criminal records, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, told authorities Wednesday not to put detainers on them.
Santiago Garcia, Martin Rodriguez and Manuel Vazquez were released on bond late Wednesday night after appearing in a Mecklenburg County courtroom by teleconference earlier that day.
The other seven arrested, Cynthia Martinez, Marco Saavedra, Alicia Torres-Don and Angelica Velazquillo, Mohammad Abdollahi, Isabel Castillo and Viridiana Martinez, were released on bond Thursday. They will all appear in court in October on misdemeanor charges of civil disobedience and impeding traffic.
Charlotte-based immigration attorney Janeen Hicks-Pierre said that detainers hold people while immigration officials decide on deportation.
“ICE wants no part in this PR nightmare," she said, “If ICE wanted to hold them would be some indication of a detainer.”
Garcia said that within an hour of being arrested and processed, he was issued an alien number and paperwork stating that he was going to be transferred to Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.
Several other participants were also issued alien numbers or placed on ICE holds.
“I thought I was on my way to Georgia,” said Garcia. “I sat in jail for hours not knowing when and if I would see my family soon.”
Garcia said that he was later surprised to learn that he would be released on Wednesday.
“I am more angry than happy because I realize that if it had been my mother or father in detention it would have been different.”
Domenic Powell, co-founder and spokesperson for the North Carolina Dream Team, conceded that they all knowingly risked deportation from the United States in a county that has 287(g) -- a federal program that deputizes local law authorities to enforce immigration laws. But Powell considered Tuesday's arrests a test of how the Obama administration’s new policy on undocumented immigrants will be implemented.
Powell feels that the release of the ten undocumented protesters is nothing more than a publicity stunt for ICE, saying: “The [Administration’s immigration policies] are not protecting [undocumented immigrants] from deportation; public pressure is protecting them.”
The administration announced last month that those without criminal records -- who are found to be a low priority because they are students, were brought to the United States as children or have long family ties to the country -- would have their deportation cases put on hold and granted work permits. The new approach calls for a review of more than 300,000 deportation cases that remain pending.
The administration has said that this policy, which recommends the use of “prosecutorial discretion” for DREAM Act-eligible immigrants who are in removal proceedings, brings them in line with proposed legislation such as the DREAM Act.
Increased discretion on the part of law enforcement and prosecutors is not enough to please advocacy groups, who argue that the policy is not the solution.
The rally was organized by the North Carolina Dream Team, a group of mostly high school- and college-age youths who call themselves “dreamers” after legislation in Congress known as the DREAM Act, an un-passed bill that would allow some undocumented young people the chance to gain legal status in exchange for two years of college or military service.
Seven of the 15 who were arrested revealed their status as undocumented immigrants at the rally and shared their stories before leading a march and shutting down a major intersection near Central Piedmont Community College in protest of climbing deportation rates, federal inaction over immigration and state community college restrictions for undocumented students.
The action marked exactly one year before the Democratic National Convention, which is to take place a mile away from Tuesday's protest site.
“We are here to send the Democrats a message: if you are not with us, you are against us,” Powell said. “These are people whose lives are on hold and if Democrats just think we’re going to be quiet and wait for them to deliver something that they promised over and over again. They’re crazy.”
Those released Wednesday said that they will continue to call upon undocumented youth across the country to reveal their immigration status and challenge the Obama administration’s 287(g) and Secure Communities programs through public actions like the rally and social networks like Facebook, Twitter and a blog at dreamactivist.org.
Jessica Coscia is a freelance reporter based in North Carolina.