Valley juveniles upset after
deportation to Mexico
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 3, 2004
Federal immigration officials
rounded up at least eight Phoenix juveniles, some as young as 12, and sent them
back to Mexico on Sunday because they could not prove they were living in the
United States legally.
The children were separated from their families in Phoenix and dropped at the
border in Nogales and sent across to Mexico.
"They just opened a door and said, 'Go,' " one of the juveniles said Friday,
three days after he returned to Phoenix using his school ID to cross the border.
The youth, who declined to give his name during a news conference at Ocotillo
High School on Friday, said at least six of the juveniles sent back to Mexico
remain there and had sought out friends and family to stay with.
Police and immigration officials portrayed the juveniles as gang members who
were found congregating outside a house party on Kings Avenue in northeast
Phoenix last Saturday night.
Russell Ahr, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in
Phoenix, said federal immigration officials detained 16 juveniles last Saturday
night after an enforcement agent on patrol with a member of a violent-gang task
force encountered a large group of juveniles outside a house party in the
Palomino neighborhood of northeast Phoenix. The area is home to a large Mexican
Ahr said eight or nine of the youths were held overnight in a detention center
in Tucson and then sent back to Mexico on Sunday afternoon because they could
not prove they were in the United States legally.
Federal authorities declined to identify the juveniles, and the two students
sent back to Mexico who attended Friday's news conference said they would not
give their names for fear they would be sent back again.
The juveniles said they were asked to provide their names and telephone numbers
and then transported in an immigration van to a detention center on Central
Avenue in Phoenix. They said immigration officials at the center allowed them to
call their parents, then they were transferred to the Border Patrol station in
Ahr said the agency sends back to Mexico undocumented minors who refuse to
identify their parents, but he did not know if immigration authorities contacted
The two 13-year-old youths sent back to Mexico said their parents arranged for
friends in Nogales to meet them at the border. But they said some of the
juveniles knew no one there.
Parents of two juveniles sent back to Mexico declined to discuss the incident
Ahr said officials from the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix interviewed the
juveniles while they were in detention.
He defended immigration officials' decision to send the youths to Mexico, saying
they "asked for voluntary return to Mexico."
He said an official from the Mexican consular office in Nogales met the
juveniles at the border and escorted them to Mexico.
Four or five other youths - Ahr could not provide the exact number - were given
notices to appear in federal Immigration Court to face deportation proceedings.
Ahr did not know why some of the youths were ordered to appear in court rather
than being sent to Mexico like the others.
Three of the 16 juveniles were released that night after their parents brought
documents proving they were U.S. citizens, Ahr said.
A parent and a school counselor expressed outrage Friday that the juveniles were
separated from their parents and sent to Mexico.
"What would have happened if these kids had been killed (in Mexico)? These kids
are not responsible for their parents to bring them here. They are not adults,"
said Jose Luis Rodriguez, a counselor at Greenway Middle School in the Paradise
Valley School District. At least three of the students attended his school. Four
more attended Paradise Valley High School. Two others attended North Canyon High
School and Ocotillo Charter High School, he said.
Rodriguez said he believes the youths were targeted because they are Latinos. He
plans to ask the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national civil
rights organization, to demand an investigation into the incident.
"This is just racial profiling and harassment. That's what it is," he said.
Esteban Fierro, 13, a seventh-grader at Greenway Middle School, said immigration
officials detained him even though he is a U.S. citizen.
Fierro said immigration officials released him about 3 a.m. Sunday after a
cousin brought his birth certificate to the detention center on Central Avenue
The boy's mother said her son's rights were violated.
"He's an American citizen. There is no reason he should have been detained,"
said Maria, who asked that her last name not be published.
Ahr said officials took pictures of the youths "flashing their gang signs."
Fierro and two 13-year-olds who were sent to Mexico and are back in Phoenix
admitted Friday that they flashed gang signs but said they did so only after
police and immigration officials directed them to.