PHOENIX (AP) — A lawyer is seeking the release of eight protesters who were detained by U.S. authorities at a southern Arizona border crossing when they tried to re-enter the country from Mexico.
The eight young people, who were born in Mexico but were brought to America illegally when they were children, tried to re-enter the U.S. at the Nogales port of entry in southern Arizona on Monday to protest immigration policies.
Tucson attorney Margo Cowan said Tuesday that immigration officers in the U.S. turned down her clients' request for "humanitarian parole" that would temporarily allow them to come into the country, so she is now seeking asylum.
Cowan said she would seek her clients' release from a Pinal County immigration detention center while their asylum applications are being litigated.
"They certainly can't be considered a flight risk because they asked the U.S. to admit them," Cowan said.
The group tried to re-enter the U.S. as a way to draw attention to the huge jump in deportations carried out under the Obama administration, and to reaffirm their attachment to the country where they were raised. They wore graduation caps and gowns to show they are productive members of society and want the country to open its doors to them.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency responsible for determining whether immigrants at ports of entry can enter the country, declined to comment on the detentions Tuesday, citing privacy laws.
Lenni B. Benson, a New York Law School professor who specializes in immigration, said people applying for asylum need to establish a fear of persecution based on race, religion, national origin or political opinions if they were to return to the country where they were born or the country where they last lived.
People who have been granted asylum can apply to become permanent legal residents in the U.S., Benson said.
Benson said she believes government lawyers would likely try to undercut the arguments for asylum for the eight people by pointing out that they voluntarily returned to Mexico. But Benson said their voluntarily trip to Mexico probably wouldn't be a deciding factor for an immigration judge.
"It might be something that the judge might take into consideration in the totality of circumstances," Benson said.
Cowan said the protesters' decision to go to Mexico wouldn't undercut their asylum application.
"They have been out of Mexico their whole lives," Cowan said. "They have no idea what Mexico is like today for them, and now they know."