'Dream 9' Win Small Victory In Fight To Stay In U.S.

Nine young immigrants facing deportation were released from detention on Wednesday. They are known as the Dream 9 and have made a public plea to stay in the U.S. All were brought here as children and now they are trying to stay by applying for asylum.

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A group of young people, known as the Dream 9, won a small victory yesterday in their fight to remain in the U.S. legally. They were released from a federal detention center in Arizona. All nine grew up in the U.S. but returned to their native Mexico, then publically tried to cross back into this country last month.

It was a risky strategy and, as NPR's Ted Robbins reports, although the strategy eventually paid off, more risk lies ahead.

(APPLAUSE)

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Friends and family members welcomed the five women and four men as they got off a bus in Tucson. The women wore caps and gowns to symbolize their desire for college educations in the U.S. They'd spent the last 16 days getting a different kind of education at the federal immigration detention center in Eloy, Arizona.

MARIA PENICHE: It was mind blowing.

ROBBINS: Twenty-year-old Maria Peniche grew up in Boston. Before this, she'd only heard about undocumented immigrants being arrested and held in detention.

PENICHE: But to actually be there and be part of those people, and see their struggle and see their pain, and just their total fear of being in a place that they don't know.

ROBBINS: What got the nine released was a hearing officer's determination that they had credible fear of persecution if they were forced to go back to Mexico. That's the first step in applying for asylum. Six of the nine group members had been living in Mexico for the last several years, after being deported or leaving because they said it was too hard living in the U.S. without documents. The other three left the U.S. last month. Then, surrounded by supporters, the group staged an act of civil disobedience.

PROTESTORS: (Chanting) Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home...

ROBBINS: In July, all nine went to the Port of Entry at Nogales, Arizona and asked to be let in legally. They were denied, then taken into custody. Now an immigration judge will decide whether to grant asylum. It's a long shot. Fewer than two percent of Mexicans who apply are granted asylum.

Their lawyer, Margo Cowan, is hoping a solution comes from Washington.

MARGO COWAN: Yeah, the asylum applications are a way to keep them here. But I'm hopeful that here in the future, Congress will come to its senses and will pass meaningful immigration reform.

ROBBINS: This was a political act to protest what they see as unfair immigration policy. In an email, ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement - said despite growing up in the U.S., only two of the nine were eligible for the Obama administration's deferred action for young people. The other two took themselves out of eligibility by going back to Mexico.

Lisa Magana is a professor of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. It's not clear whether making themselves public symbols of the immigration movement will help or hurt. But she says injecting politics into the nine individual cases is risky.

LISA MAGANA: Yes, it's certainly dangerous. They're playing with fire.

ROBBINS: Other Immigration experts are split on whether the action will or should spur immigration reform. For now though, the Dream 9 will return to their U.S. homes and wait. No asylum hearing dates have been set.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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