LAREDO, Texas – Thirty-four young migrants are in U.S. custody after trying to enter the United States without documents in the latest round of what is becoming a new tactic in confronting what they consider unjust U.S. immigration policies.
U.S. immigration officials interviewed the group dressed in a colorful graduation caps and gowns late into the night Monday after they marched across one of the bridges connecting Mexico to Laredo while chanting "Undocumented and unafraid!"
The young people all spent long stretches of their childhoods in U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix and want to return.
Edna Flores, 22, of Hermosillo in Sonora state, was taken by her family illegally to the U.S. when she was 6. But she voluntarily left Phoenix in January 2012 after deciding her options for finding work or continuing her education were limited after graduating from high school. In Mexico, she found work in a call center and obtained a tourist visa to visit the U.S.
Flores took a 26-hour bus ride last week to Nuevo Laredo to join the group at a migrant shelter as it prepared for Monday's protest march. "I just want to be back with my family," she said.
The risks borne by their parents' generation involved dangerous journeys through darkness across desert and river. The teenagers and 20-somethings who crossed Monday face what could be weeks in detention and possible deportation.
They are following the path of the "Dream Nine," a smaller group that attempted to enter the U.S. at Nogales, Arizona, in July. They requested asylum and were released after about two weeks in detention to await their turn before a judge. Monday's contingent expects something similar.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose officers determine who is admitted at the border, said privacy laws prohibited it from discussing any individual cases.
At the heart of both groups' protest was a change to U.S. immigration regulations made in June 2012 giving something called deferred action to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Those who were in the U.S. at that time and met a list of criteria could apply for a renewable two-year deferment and work authorization.
But the young people crossing Monday had left the U.S., either voluntarily or through deportation, months, weeks or even just days before the deferred action announcement, commonly known as DACA.
"We look at this action today and the Dream Nine as a type of extension of DACA," said David Bennion, an immigration lawyer traveling with the group. "What we would like to see is the people who left, like these 30 who otherwise would have qualified for DACA, to have that be taken into consideration."
There were several minors in the group, including 17-year-old Luis Enrique Rivera Lopez. He came to the border from Guasave in Sinaloa, a Mexican state that he had known only by its reputation for drugs and violence before going there from Los Angeles early last year.
"I wanted to have a sense of my roots," Rivera said of his decision to return to Mexico, where he hadn't been since he was 1. "I wanted to know where I was from."
The experience was rewarding in some ways. He got to know both sets of grandparents. But after 19 months away he missed his parents and three siblings who remained in Los Angeles. He also found he didn't fit in after having grown up in Los Angeles.
"When I got to Sinaloa I didn't dress like anyone. My haircut was different. My style of walking was different. My Spanish was like way off," he said.
David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the tactic concerned him.
"The focus now should be on getting the House of Representatives to do its job and fix the immigration system," Leopold said. "I don't know that these actions move that issue forward."