Judge Rules Against Deportation of Four Students
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
In 2002, four students from the Wilson Charter High School in Phoenix were detained by INS agents while they were on a class trip to Niagara Falls. The students, whose classmates were headed to the Canadian side of the Falls, did not have proof of US citizenship. The agents questioned them for nine hours, then sent them back to Phoenix to be deported. As it turned out the four students, Yuliana Huicochea, Jaime Damian, Oscar Corona and Luis Nava, are illegal immigrants. Their parents had come from Mexico and brought them into the United States when they were toddlers. This week and immigration judge in Phoenix threw out the federal government's case against the students. Luis Nava joins us from the studios of KJZZ in Phoenix.
Mr. Nava, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. LUIS NAVA: Hello, thank you.
SIMON: And attorney Judy Flanagan should also be there with you. Thank you very much for being with us as well.
Ms. JUDY FLANAGAN (Attorney): Thank you.
SIMON: And, Mr. Nava, how does it feel?
Mr. NAVA: It feels great. I mean, I'm excited and I'm happy. And today I woke up with a great, great relief.
Mr. NAVA: Yeah, very surprised. Even before we actually went into the courtroom my lawyer told me that our deferred action request for (unintelligible) was denied, so I was like almost sure I would have to take voluntary departure.
SIMON: That's a phrase that people hear, but I'm not sure they're familiar with it. Do you know exactly what would have happened under voluntary departure for you?
Mr. NAVA: I guess it's a little less severe than actually getting deported, but it's the same concept. You still have to leave the country.
SIMON: Yeah. So you would have to go to Mexico.
Mr. NAVA: Yes.
SIMON: I wonder how well you know Mexico.
Mr. NAVA: I don't. I came over here when I was two.
Mr. NAVA: Never been back since. Have no recollection of any other country besides the United States.
SIMON: Judy Flanagan, what was the reasoning? Why did the judge throw out the case?
Ms. FLANAGAN: The border officials had engaged in racial profiling in questioning the students on the US side of the border. None of the students ever crossed into Canada and three of the students were questioned in the Visitors Center, which one of their officers who testified at the hearing said was extremely unusual, that he'd never heard of it before.
SIMON: Is the government out of legal action at this point? Any appeals, or do they have that right?
Ms. FLANAGAN: The attorney indicated that they would file an appeal. We still are waiting for the written decision from the judge, which he indicated would come out in about 30 days, and they would have 30 days from that written decision to file their notice to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
SIMON: Mr. Nava, what is your legal status now?
Mr. NAVA: I'm still undocumented. I'm not able to work or do any of those things. I'm still in the same situation as before.
SIMON: I'm told you graduated from Arizona State University.
Mr. NAVA: Yeah, I did. I filed for graduation two weeks ago and received my approval letter a week ago, so I should be receiving my diploma in August.
Mr. NAVA: Thank you.
SIMON: But it would be hard for you to be hired for a job without legal status.
Mr. NAVA: Yeah, it would be. Yeah.
SIMON: Judy Flanagan, what can they do?
Ms. FLANAGAN: This is one of the problems that we face at this point. The judge's decision does not convert them into permanent residents and it's really the start of our continued battle to get the Dream Act passed.
SIMON: The Dream Act? I guess I'm not familiar with that.
Ms. FLANAGAN: Right. The Dream Act is a bill that was introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah back in--I believe it was in August of 2001, to help high school graduates who are undocumented to be able to get permanent residence. And what it would do is, for students who had been in the United States for at least five years at the time the bill was enacted and under the age of 16 at the time they entered the United States, it would allow them to apply for conditional permanent residency. And then they would have six years in which to either attend two years of college or two years in the military, and then they would be able to apply for permanent residence without the conditions.
SIMON: Mr. Nava, what about your three friends? What are they up to now?
Mr. NAVA: I'm not sure. I know Oscar has his family, he's probably going to spend some time with them. The other two are still going to school. They're going to community college and I think they're trying to finish that up.
SIMON: What are your plans?
Mr. NAVA: Actually, with a double major, I'm going to get my diploma in management, and I had to drop financing to hurry up and graduate before this trial, so I'm trying to go back to school and pick up financing again and finish it. I guess the positive thing about this is that more attention has been paid to the Dream Act and it needs to pass in order for me to be able to work. I'm going to be an advocate for that.
SIMON: Luis Nava and his attorney, Judy Flanagan, speaking with us from Phoenix. Thank you both very much.
Ms. FLANAGAN: Thank you.
Mr. NAVA: Thank you.
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