Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0403teensdeported.html

Valley juveniles upset after deportation to Mexico
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 3, 2004

Daniel González

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 immigrant community.

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 Tucson.

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 their parents.

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 Friday.

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 in Phoenix.

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.

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