Maria Peniche sat down to a plate of pancakes, bacon, and eggs in a small restaurant just south of the border in Nogales, Sonora on Monday morning. “It tastes like home,” she said with a grin.
The calm and reflective mood was broken an hour later, when Peniche and seven other young people who were brought illegally into the U.S. as children attempted to cross into the U.S. through the Morley gate without the proper documentation. As of noon on Monday, they were being loaded into a CBP van in front of more than 100 marchers who chanted: “Undocumented, unafraid!”
Peniche, 22, returned to her native Mexico in July 2012, after living in Boston for 12 years, where, oddly enough, she became a Yankees fan. She returned to Mexico to continue her education after being unable to afford college in the U.S., she said. Instead, she ended up feeling “complete regret every single day” after her lack of knowledge about Mexican history caused her to fail an entrance exam and she ended up working as a receptionist, she said.
She is one of hundreds of thousands of young people brought illegally to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers” in reference to a failed reform bill that would have given them a path to U.S. citizenship.
In June 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced that people brought into the country illegally by their parents, and who meet certain requirements, could legally remain in the U.S. for two years, or longer if their requests for renewal were approved, under a directive known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The goal of Monday’s protest was to hold the Obama Administration to that promise and shed light on DHS’ deportation policies, said Dominic Powell, logistics coordinator with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, or NIYA, that organized the protest.
“When DHS is forced to act in public, they tend to act differently,” he said. “We hope they allow them to come home and open the door for thousands more.”
The plan was for the “Dream 8” to attempt to enter the U.S. through the Morley gate and ask that they be admitted on humanitarian grounds, said Margo Cowan, one of the lawyers representing the group. If that request were denied, the Dreamers would ask for political asylum, she said. With requests for political asylum, the federal government can hold the requester while the request is sorted out, she said.
However, the young men and women who gathered in the restaurant on Monday morning prepared for the possibility of finishing the day behind bars. (According to Sheriff Antonio Estrada, as of 4 p.m., they were not being held at the Santa Cruz County Jail, which houses federal immigration violators for the U.S. Marshal.)
Lulu Martinez, another member of the group who attempted to enter through the Morley gate, said that she recognized the risks, but preferred taking that chance to living in fear of violence in Mexico.
“At this point, we’re just going to keep fighting, all of us, not just the eight of us, but the thousands of us who have been deported,” she said.
“By the time they put the handcuffs on our wrists, we are going to put our chins up,” Peniche said. “I feel like this is the new Freedom Riders.”
If Martinez were able to successfully cross, she said, she planned to finish her degree in women’s studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
As for Peniche, “I’m hoping to run straight home and hug my sister,” she said.
In advance of Monday’s protest, NIYA issued bios of some of the participants. In addition to Peniche and Martinez, they included:
• Luis Gustavo. Born in Michoacán, Mexico, the 20-year-old has lived in North Carolina since he was 5. After graduating from U.S. high school, he returned to Mexico in August 2011 in hopes of attending school. He tried to return to the U.S. to be with his mother, sister, and four brothers in June 2012 when the DACA program was announced, but was caught by the Border Patrol.
“The responding agent sympathized with him, and filed for DACA on his behalf, but saw it rejected,” the organization said. “Luis was subsequently deported.”
• Adriana Diaz. Now 22, the Mexico City native first came to Phoenix when she was 4 months old. She graduated from Crestview Preparatory high school in 2010, where two of her murals decorate its walls. She left Phoenix for Nogales, Sonora three months before DACA was announced “because she was tired of living in fear under (Sheriff Joe) Arpaio, not knowing each night if her mom was going to come home,” the organizers said.
In Nogales, she tried to go to school, but her U.S. credentials were rejected. Instead, she’s been working with migrants at the Juan Bosco shelter in Sonora. Now she wants to return to Phoenix “because she has no memories in Mexico. Her entire life was in Phoenix – she has memories of school, birthdays, going to prom – even her partner of four years lives in Phoenix.”
• Ceferino Santiago. The 21-year-old came to Lexington, Ky., when he was 13 to be with his older brother. After graduating from high school, where he ran on the cross-county team, Ceferino was forced to return to Oaxaca, Mexico because of an ear infection that required expensive surgery that cost $21,000. “Ceferino is coming home so he can be with his brother, his community, and to continue with his studies,” NIYA said.
• Claudia Amaro. Now 37, the Monterrey, Mexico native fled to Colorado with her mother when she was 13 after her father was murdered and the family was threatened. In 2006, while she was living in Wichita, Kan., Claudia’s husband was detained while driving to work.
The protest organizers say ICE also detained Claudia “while interpreting for her husband.” She was deported to Mexico with her son, now 13.