saavedra at border fence nogales spotlight

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

Marco Saavedra, 23, standing in Nogales Mexico looking through the international border fence

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Nine undocumented people, who had been living in the U.S. for decades and recently left the U.S., were detained trying to cross back into the country at a port of entry.

The nine were detained after they presented a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, detailing their academic and family ties to the U.S., and asking to “come back home.”

All members of the group petitioned entry to the U.S. with those letters but did not have proper documentation, which is required at the Morley Gate, a pedestrian-only crossing in Nogales, organizers said.

mohammad at fence portrait

Photo: Fernanda Echavarri

Mohammad Abdollahi hugging a friend through the border fence

They tried to cross to shed light on what they called “flawed immigration and deportation policies.”

The group wanted to call attention to President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives temporary work permits to people who were brought to the U.S. as children and live here illegally.

Some members of the group call that program a lesser version of the DREAM Act and want the federal government to pass legislation giving young undocumented students a path to citizenship. The proposed DREAM Act, which has not passed Congress but is part of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, would allow that legal path.

“Immigration has become a criminal thing," said Mohammad Abdollahi, with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. "They put them in handcuffs. They put them in a holding cell that is very identical to a jail cell.”

Although immigration officials would normally turn people away at the port of entry if they did not have proper documentation, Abdollahi said that was not the case Monday, because the nine asked for special legal review of their status.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said via email they could not comment on the detentions.

"Under U.S. immigration law [Section 291 of the INA [8 USC 1361] applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States," the email statement said. "In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility."

Marco Saavedra, 23, one of the nine detained, said on Sunday night that he left the U.S. to show support for other undocumented young people who have been deported.

“Obviously the risk (of arrest and deportation) always exists, but I think the biggest risk is always being separated from our families on the U.S. side or on the Mexican side,” said Saavedra, who was undergoing deportation proceedings when he departed. “I think that just weighs down on you after like two decades of not seeing one side of your family.”