TUCSON — Young immigrants known as the "Dream 9" were released Wednesday from federal custody in Arizona, a small step in their bid to win asylum in the United States.
The immigration activists were released on parole, which allows them to return to their American communities until they get the chance to argue for asylum before an immigration judge. The nine were tranferred by bus from the Eloy Detention Center in south-central Arizona to Tucson, where their arrival was welcomed by immigrant rights activists.
"You're here!" shouted someone in the crowd. Some of the dreamers and their supporters were crying.
The women came off the bus first, dressed in mortar boards and graduation gowns – the same attire they wore when trying to cross the border in July. The men came off next but in street clothes.
Last month, the five women and four men, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, staged an unconventional and risky protest at the U.S.-Mexico border to spotlight the thousands of people deported under the Obama administration.
When the Dream 9 — named for the Dream Act, which would provide such immigrants a path to legalization — attempted to reenter the U.S. at the Nogales, Ariz., port of entry on July 22, they were arrested. They had been in federal custody since.
On Tuesday, immigration asylum officers found that all nine had credible fear of persecution or torture in their birth country and could therefore not be immediately removed.
Their cases now go to an immigration judge, who will decide whether to grant asylum. The process could take years to litigate, experts said.
Three of the dreamers had crossed into Mexico recently to stage the protest. The six others who joined them had returned to Mexico more than a year ago for various reasons.
One of the six was Maria Peniche, 22, of Boston. She had lived the past year in Mexico City.
Peniche came to the United States when she was 10 and overstayed her visa. She said she was relieved to be out of detention and grateful to be back in the United States.
Contrasting Mexico City with the U.S., she said, "It's amazing. I feel like I have so much freedom here. I can be myself and not be afraid."