Students' deportation orders tossed
July 21, 2005


PHOENIX - A judge threw out the deportation case Thursday against four young people who were taking part in a high-school science competition near the Canadian border when the government found out they were brought to the United States illegally as toddlers.
U.S. Immigration Judge John Richardson granted a request from the four to exclude key evidence in the case, ruling that agents questioned the students based on their Hispanic appearance.
Tim Counts, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.
Jaime Damian, 20, Yuliana Huicochea, 20, Oscar Corona, 20, and Luis Nava, 21, were on a school trip in June 2002 to compete in a solar-powered boat competition near Buffalo, N.Y., when they drew the attention of immigration officials.
One of the students wanted to make a side trip to Niagara Falls in Canada. Federal agents looked into the immigration status of all four after a teacher asked whether the students would be allowed to return to the United States with only their student IDs.
All have finished high school, and three of them are either enrolled or have completed college.
During their science trip, the students said they faced aggressive questioning about their identification, country of birth and when they were brought into the country. Three of the students testified that border officials made racially offensive comments in their presence.
A female border supervisor, whose name none of the students remembered and who was not identified in court, told the students that they may blend in in Hispanic-heavy Arizona but not in Buffalo, the three testified.
Two of the students also testified that a border agent suggested he might go get some Mexican food, prompting a smirk from another officer.
Nava said he interpreted the statement not as a genuine plan for a meal, but as a comment on the Mexican heritage of the students.
"It was offensive," Nava said. "I cannot believe he said that."
Martin Mahady, then a border inspector, said he did not hear anyone making derogatory comments in the presence of the students.