Three of the ten undocumented youth arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina during a “coming out” rally on Tuesday, have been released, though their futures in the United States remain unclear.
Mecklenburg County jail officials said they determined that ten of fifteen protesters arrested at the rally are undocumented.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office said that in keeping with the jail's policy to screen all arrestees, the fifteen people arrested were fingerprinted, photographed and screened to determine whether they are in the country legally. Criminal background checks were conducted on all of the protesters. Jail officials confirmed that none of them had criminal records.
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.
Garcia 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 issued Alien Numbers or placed on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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.”
Domenic Powell, affirmed that they all knowingly risked deportation from the United States in a 287(g) county, but considered Tuesday's arrests a test of how the Obama administration’s policy on undocumented immigrants will be implemented.
“We stood up for what we believe in,” said Manuel Vazquez. “But more importantly, we stood up for ourselves and our communities.”
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 be released from jail and granted work permits.
The Administration has said that this policy, which recommends the use of “prosecutorial discretion” for DREAM Act eligible individuals 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 may not be enough to please advocacy groups, who argue that the policy is not solution.
In a media advisory released by the North Carolina Dream Team Thursday morning, Domenic Powell, founding member of the North Carolina Dream Team said, “This action shows that the Obama Administration either still actively deports undocumented youth or has absolutely no control of its local offices.”
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 to gain legal status in exchange for two years of college or military service.
Seven of the fifteen arrested revealed their status as undocumented immigrants and shared their stories with attendees before leading a march and shutting down a major intersection near Central Piedmont Community College in protest of climbing deportation rates, federal inaction and state community college restrictions for undocumented students on Tuesday.
The action marked exactly one year before the Democratic National Convention just one mile from where the rally took place in Charlotte, NC.
“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.”
The North Carolina Dream Team has kept supporters informed and has begun asking for donations to cover bail, attorneys fees, and other legal expenses through social networks like Facebook, Twitter and a blog at, dreamactivist.org.
They are also publicly calling upon undocumented youth across the country to reveal their immigration status and challenge the Obama administration’s 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.
Tania Mattos, an undocumented immigrant from New York who attended the rally and Wednesday’s court hearing, said that she learned of the North Carolina Dream Team’s efforts via the social web. She and members of a New York-based organization, the New York State Youth Leadership Council, traveled twelve hours by bus as a sign of solidarity to North Carolina “dreamers,” and to offer their experience in END (Education Not Deportation) proceedings.
Mattos said that they are consulting lawyers through their national network, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Their attorneys, she said, are gathering notes from the rally and court hearings in order to present an END case for any of the protesters placed in removal proceedings.
Court hearings are scheduled for, Cynthia Martinez, Marco Saavedra, Alicia Torres-Don and Angelica Velazquillo, at 1 pm Thursday. Three additional undocumented activists who were arrested, Mohammad Abdollahi, Isabel Castillo, as well as, Viridiana Martinez, who is a co-founder of the North Carolina Dream Team, remain in custody.
Jessica Coscia is a freelancer based in North Carolina.