The Homeland Security Department tentatively approved asylum requests for seven Mexican immigrants, including some who were living in the United States illegally but left and attempted to re-enter as part of a protest against U.S. deportation policies. The preliminary approval is highly unusual because it is rare for the U.S. government to grant asylum to Mexican citizens.
The immigrants were trying to call attention to hundreds of thousands who have been deported during President Barack Obama's administration. They had cited a credible fear of persecution should they return to Mexico.
A decision is pending on two others in the case.
An immigration judge will have the final say whether they can remain permanently in the United States, but such a ruling could take years.
Meanwhile, the seven immigrants are likely to be released from detention in Arizona and could be eligible for a work permit in the future.
The nine immigrants spent portions of their lives in the U.S. Some returned voluntarily to Mexico years ago, while others had been deported. Three of them were raised in the U.S. and left the country for Mexico expressly to participate in the protest when they attempted to cross the border recently in Nogales.
The immigrants were pushing for legislation being considered in Congress to offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
House Republicans recently took a tentative step toward offering citizenship to some immigrants who fit into this category, but Democrats said it wasn't enough.
The dismissive reaction to the Republican proposal underscored the difficulties of finding any immigration reform compromise in the Republican-led House.