PHOENIX - Nine activists in federal custody in Arizona for more than a week after attempting to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. in protest of American immigration policy are awaiting word on whether they'll be granted asylum after interviews with authorities, organizers said Thursday.
Domenic Powell, a spokesman with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, said the group is awaiting formal notification on their applications for humanitarian parole but is also seeking asylum based on "credible fear" of persecution should they return to Mexico.
Powell initially said earlier Thursday the parole requests had been denied, but later indicated the group's attorney had not yet received official word from U.S. authorities.
Should asylum be considered, the group may be released into the U.S. temporarily pending hearings before an immigration judge on their ability to remain.
The group, referring to themselves as the Dream 9, is trying to call attention to hundreds of thousands who have been deported during President Obama's time in the White House.
Tucson-based attorney Margo Cowan, who is representing the detainees, said she was asking that they be allowed to remain in the United States on what's known as humanitarian parole, essentially to permit admission to the country because "their presence in America will serve an important public interest."
Cowan didn't respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
Organizers of the protest with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance said Thursday that more than 70 women in the Eloy Detention Center where the activists are held have joined a hunger strike in solidarity. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials denied the reports and say all individuals at the facility are eating three meals a day.
The office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is considering the group's request for asylum. Because of federal privacy laws, U.S. government officials declined to comment on the status.
The activists are pushing for legislation being considered in Congress to offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
House Republicans recently took a tentative step toward offering citizenship to some unauthorized immigrants who fit into this category, but they hit resistance from the White House on down as Democrats said it wasn't enough.
The dismissive reaction to the Republican proposal underscored the difficulties of finding any immigration reform compromise in the Republican-led House.
The so-called Dream Act, which aimed to provide just such a path to citizenship for those children, passed the House in 2010 when it was controlled by Democrats, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.
The nine activists spent portions of their lives in the U.S. Some returned voluntarily to Mexico years ago, while others had been deported. Three of them were raised in the U.S. and left the country for Mexico expressly to participate in the protest when they attempted to cross the border last week in Nogales.
Powell, the immigrant group spokesman, said the federal government should release the nine activists and approve their requests.
The White House declined to comment.