Nine activists arrested after attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. in protest of American immigration policy were released Wednesday from federal custody in Arizona.
A national group known for its controversial demonstrations against U.S. immigration enforcement policies said it was helping roughly 160 people enter the United States from Mexico, without authorization, through San Diego.
Mohammad Abdollahi, a leader of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, told Fox News Latino on Monday that his group, along with others assisting in California, had about 158 people ready to cross the border at the Tijuana-San Diego checkpoint and ask to remain in the United States.
"We might have other people joining," he said.
Some of the people participating in the protest were scheduled to speak about how their families had been torn apart by deportations, according to a press release about the event. NIYA is organizing the crossing with assistance from two California advocacy groups, Border Angels and "The Bring Them Home" projects.
In a statement, NIYA said: “This will be the third time the #BringThemHome campaign has fought for immigrants who were deported or forced to leave their homes in the United States. On Monday, they will begin the long journey back to their loved ones across the country after crossing the border in San Diego.”
Last year two previous crossings, which also originated in Mexico, involved smaller groups – nine the first time, and about 34 the second time. Those groups were called DREAM 9 and DREAM 34.
Most of the people in both groups requested political asylum, saying they feared persecution if they returned to Mexico. They were detained for weeks by immigration officials; most passed an initial fear of persecution screening and are awaiting final decisions on their political asylum claims. A few in the second group were deported.
The provocative move created divisions within advocates who want more lenient immigration policies and a dramatic reduction in deportations.
Some supported the immigrants who approached the border, and the groups that coordinated their action, saying that other approaches to pushing for significant changes in U.S. immigration policies had failed. But others in the advocacy community frowned on the dramatic border crossings, characterizing them as publicity stunts and saying that would be a setback in the push for comprehensive immigration reform.
This latest protest comes as frustration is reaching a new peak among critics of Obama’s record number of deportations. Nearly 2 million people have been deported since Obama became president. Last week, using a term that many advocates of more lenient immigration policies have used to refer to the president, Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, called him “Deporter-in-Chief” in a speech about immigration at a gala event.
After Murguia’s speech, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrats, delivered a blistering speech on the House floor about Obama’s deportation record, and repeated the term to refer to the president.
A bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in June in the Senate, but the House has addressed the issue in fits and starts. Conservative members in the House say they will not rubber-stamp the Senate bill, which both tightens border security and interior enforcement, and allows a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria.
Conservative Republicans in the House, however, vow not to pass any measure that would provide “amnesty” to people who are here illegally.
Last year, NIYA vowed to continue the border crossings, saying each time the groups would be larger.
“The participants in this third border-crossing were deported or forced to leave the United States because of programs supported by the Obama Administration like 287G and Secure Communities,” the NIYA statement said.
“State laws denying immigrants access to a college education, jobs, or housing also made life incredibly difficult. Some were just tired of living in fear, and returned. However, upon leaving their homes, they found life even more difficult," it said.
“No one should be forced to stay away from their children; no one should be forced to live in a country they barely remember. For many, the #BringThemHome campaign is their only chance of returning to the U.S.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente