NOGALES, Sonora - A group of nine young adults who lived in the United States without legal status spent most of Monday inside the offices of the DeConcini Port of Entry after they tried to come back in, seeking humanitarian parole.
Dressed in black, green and blue caps and gowns and buttons that read "Bring them home," the "Dreamers" went one by one through the turnstile at Morley Gate, with their lives summarized in a stack of papers.
One, Rosie Rojas, a 19-year-old who lived in Tucson, joined at the last minute, organizers with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance said.
They are mentors, athletes and valedictorians, but all find themselves back in Mexico.
Some left the United States voluntarily to pursue higher education or for medical reasons. Others left to show their support.
"They are knocking on the door of the United States asking to come home," said Margo Cowan, a Tucson attorney and activist representing the students.
They asked the Department of Homeland Security for humanitarian parole, a discretionary decision to let a migrant in for a specific reason such as a medical emergency. But the group came prepared with an asylum claim if the first option failed.
Customs and Border Protection issued a statement earlier in the day saying the agency couldn't discuss specific cases due to privacy laws.
"The United States has been and continues to be a welcoming nation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection not only protects U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in the country but also wants to ensure the safety of our international travelers who come to visit, study and conduct legitimate business in our country," the statement read. Under immigration law, applicants for admission "bear the burden of proof to establish they are clearly eligible to enter the United States."
People seeking asylum can be detained at an immigration center while their case is resolved.
"We don't want to wait for Congress or for Obama to change the law," said Marco Saavedra, a 23-year-old who crossed through Nogales with his parents 20 years ago and now has a bachelor's degree in sociology.
"We want to change the laws to create opportunities for lower-income people to come here legally," he said.
Saavedra is in deportation proceedings after turning himself in to Border Patrol last year in order to infiltrate a Florida detention center and document alleged abuses.
The group is part of a growing movement of young activists trying to change immigration law by doing sit-ins in front of lawmakers' offices, by "coming out" as unauthorized residents - and now by leaving the country to try to get back in.
They were among 30 so-called Dreamers - young people brought to the country without status when they were children - who tried to cross the border Monday at Nogales, Cowan said. Details about the other 20 or so weren't known.
The nine who were later detained arrived in Nogales Friday and stayed at a local immigrant shelter to prepare their cases.
Several of them left the United States voluntarily but were deported after they tried to come back in through the same deserts they had crossed with their parents years ago.
They gathered at a local restaurant Monday morning close to Morley Gate to give interviews in between bites, and to get last-minute advice from their attorney on what they should expect once they walked through the gate and asked the customs officer to let them back into the United States.
About 30 minutes after the gate opened, they huddled in a circle, said a prayer and marched through downtown with locked arms, chanting in English and Spanish.
"Undocumented, unafraid." "Sin papeles, sin miedo."
"When our dreams are under attack, what do we do? Fight back."
"We are all in this together," said Adriana Diaz. "No one is being left behind."
Adriana was 4 months old when her mother carried her in her arms and crawled under the border fence in Nogales. Back then, Maria Diaz said, there was no metal fence and no Border Patrol checkpoints. They walked a few minutes, got in a car and went to Phoenix, the place Adriana calls home.
President Obama issued an executive order last year to allow people like Adriana to stay in the country and apply for a work permit under deferred action.
That was in June.
After more than 20 years in Phoenix, Adriana and her mother decided to go back to Mexico after she graduated from high school, so Adriana could try to pursue a career in graphic design in their native Mexico City. They left Phoenix in February - four months before Obama made the announcement. "It was depressing," 22-year-old Adriana said. "It was frustrating to know I was there and I qualified."
She was the valedictorian in her class, had a 3.8 grade-point average and was involved in school and community, but none of that mattered anymore.
She wasn't able to enroll in Mexico City due to bureaucratic hoops she couldn't jump through, so they moved to Nogales, Sonora, where they thought being bilingual would come in handy.
Instead, they lived and volunteered at the Juan Bosco immigrant shelter for seven months.
"I need to get back home," said Adriana. "That's where all of my childhood memories are from. That's where I have my friends and family."
They are not giving up, she said. Not until they find a solution.
After being processed at the gate, Adriana came out handcuffed, wearing the green long-sleeved shirt and pants she had on under her graduation gown.
"I love you, hija," Maria Diaz said from the other side of the border fence, trying to hold back tears.
The nine were to be taken to the Florence Detention Center. They were denied humanitarian parole, organizers of the protest said later, but will continue to seek asylum. "As long as she has God by her side," Maria Diaz said of her daughter, "everything is possible."
On StarNet: View more photos of the Dreamers' attempt at azstarnet.com/gallery
Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at email@example.com or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo