Update, July 23, 2013, 3:05 p.m.: The nine DREAMers have been admitted to the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona, according to a Facebook update by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. The detention center -- just two hours north of Nogales, Arizona -- holds undocumented immigrants arrested and imprisoned for attempting to cross from Mexico into the U.S. The post stated that the DREAMers have already begun gathering information on fellow inmates "who should not be detained."
Nine undocumented youth were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday after they attempted to re-enter the United States from Mexico.
Some of the DREAMers had voluntarily returned to Mexico but three had been previously deported from the U.S. All of the young people were crossing as part of an action to bring awareness to those who have been deported in recent years, and planned to claim asylum at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona.
"One can't be denied admission when one applies for asylum," said Margo Cowan, an attorney representing the group crossing the border. The action was organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), an immigrant rights group. Cowan said that since the DREAMers are now in the custody of federal authorities, it "is up to President Obama to do the right thing."
At the time of publication, the group was being held in a Border Patrol facility near the Nogales port of entry. A NIYA spokesperson said Border Patrol was deciding whether to allow them release upon parole today, or to detain them. A call to the federal agency was not immediately returned.
The action, which has been developing for weeks, went into motion this morning, when around 30 people met at the border in Mexico to prepare for the group's return to the U.S.
The anticipation was palpable when the young people met for breakfast 8 a.m., just a few hundred feet from the U.S. border.
María Peniche, 22, had left the U.S. a year earlier to reunite with her family in Mexico City. She had been living in the U.S. without authorization, so leaving meant that she might not be able to come back.
As it turned out, she left at exactly the wrong time. Three days later, President Obama announced a new program that would offer deportation relief and work permits to undocumented young people like her.
Peniche said she regretted having left and missed the opportunity to apply for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She said she "regrets it every single day," wishing she had stayed just a few days longer.
Peniche had spent most of her life in Boston, where she graduated from high school and had hoped to go to college.
But since she was undocumented, she wasn't eligible for the federal loans that are normally available to U.S. citizens. Because of that, she decided to try going to college in Mexico. In Mexico, however, she was told that her high school credits wouldn't transfer since she had spent too much time in the U.S.
Her dream is to work at the United Nations, she said. Before the action on Monday, Peniche spoke hopefully.
"I feel really proud of what I'm doing," she said. "I'm going to hold my head up high when they handcuff us." She expected to be in prison for up to six months, but was confident she would be released, "by the support of the community."
After breakfast, the group of DREAMers donned caps and gowns and proceeded on a short march through the Mexican town of Nogales, in the state of Sonora.
When they eventually lined up at the Nogales border crossing, at least five Border Patrol vehicles sat waiting for them on the other side. In addition, a large crowd of supporters had amassed along the wall separating the U.S from Mexico. They shouted their support through the fence, chanting "bring them home!"
Lizbeth Mateo is another member of the group. She had previously managed to infiltrate a federal immigration detention facility to highlight the deportation of more than 1.6 million undocumented immigrants during the first term of the Obama administration. She said crossing over was a way to show how serious DREAMers are about their right to legally live in the U.S. "We're all really excited to be going home," she said.
Around 11 a.m., local time in Arizona, the group entered the port of entry, and one-by-one were processed and ushered into a Border Patrol van.
Peniche walked out of the port of entry in handcuffs, head held high and smiling as she was ushered into the vehicle while the nearby crowd cheered her on.
When asked earlier what her message was to the president, she said, "Obama, you have to listen to us."
Update, 7/23/13, 9 a.m.: In an early version of this story, we misspelled the names of Margo Cowan and María Peniche.