Rocio Hernandez Perez was one of 34 immigrants who attempted to cross into the US on September 30, knowing they were not authorized to live in the country. Perez, like the majority of the group, came to the states illegally as a child and had spent most of her life there.
She is one of the so-called “Dreamers” who have sought permanent residency under the US Dream Act bill, which was designed to let students and high achievers remain in America despite their method of entry. The legislation is meant to resolve the legal limbo which undocumented immigrants find themselves in after being brought into the country at a young age.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa told AP that Perez “was removed from the country” after a judge ruled the young woman ineligible for permanent status. No explanation for the decision was reported.
Nine of the 34 immigrants Perez traveled with have been released. David Bennion, a lawyer for the detainees, said he hopes another 17 will be released on parole because they have completed their “credible fear” tests, the first step in the asylum process.
Bennion told AP that the criteria for releasing detainees consists mainly of whether they are considered a flight risk or if the individual could be considered a danger to the community they’re released into.
“They will show up at their hearings,” he said. “And they are students, not a danger to the community.”
Nearly all of those still in custody speak fluent English and consider themselves completely American. Many had no choice, they said, but to retreat to Mexico because of growing hostility in their adopted home. Their method of “self-deportation” is the same kind that Republican Mitt Romney advocated for during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Perez spent most of her life living in North Carolina, where she moved with her parents at an early age.
“Our hearts belong to the US,” she told The Guardian in September. “They tell us that’s a place we legally don’t belong, but we can’t keep quiet anymore. We have decided to take the matter into our own hands, to do whatever it takes to get back.”
She learned English and excelled in school before being denied the chance to earn a driver’s license because of her immigration status. Perez was rebuffed in applying to colleges two years later, unable to afford the tuition or earn a scholarship due to her legal situation.
“At that point everything changed for me,” Perez continued. “I thought I would be able to go to college, and live my life fully as an American, but then I realized it wasn’t going to happen.”
After years of struggling, Perez’s parents pushed her to go back to Mexico.
“They wanted me to get a good education, be able to drive without being stopped all the time by the cops because I didn’t have a license. They didn’t like seeing their kid treated like a criminal,” she said.
Two more of the immigrants are scheduled to have a hearing before a judge on Wednesday, yet Bennion said that Perez’s deportation was a tough loss.
“I’m obviously upset,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that [the Department of Homeland Security] would change their own policies and procedures because they are Dreamers.”
Perez’s deportation comes just weeks after eight Democratic members of the House of Representatives were arrested at a Washington, DC protest which called on Republicans to break the freeze on an immigration reform bill.
Charles Rangel (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and six others were charged with “crowding, obstructing and incommoding” under the laws of the District of Columbia, Capitol Police said earlier this month.
Along with House Republicans, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has become another target of immigration reformers after years of impending progress. Carlos Specter, an attorney representing more than 100 families of asylum seekers, ripped the DHS for Perez’s arrest.
“What they are doing plays into the anti-immigrant narrative that people [who claim the need for asylum in the US] are just coming to fix their papers,” Specter said. “It’s tragic and said that people are forced to take desperate measures, but you don’t use a desperate measure if it will hurt others.”