SAN DIEGO Dozens of young, undocumented adults raised in the United States but sent back to Mexico marched over the border on Thursday as part of an ongoing protest of the plight of college-age immigrants in a sometimes violent country where they feel like strangers.
Organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the border crossing is the third in a campaign that began last July and has included journeys into Texas and Arizona.
The participants are mostly in their 20s and say they would have been protected in the U.S. and allowed to attend college with in-state tuition had Congress passed the 2010 Dream Act protecting undocumented youths brought to the U.S. as children.
"I want to come home," said Ramon Dorado, who grew up in New Mexico. He wore his graduation cap and gown as he made the passage and spoke perfect English. "I was two weeks from graduating college when I was stopped by the Albuquerque police for a traffic violation and deported because I have no papers."
Dorado led a group of about 40 immigrants across the border from Tijuana to the port of entry at San Diego, where they asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents for asylum.
An earlier group made the same trip on Monday, and a third was scheduled to come over on Sunday morning. All were deported or left the country before the June 2012 date when President Barack Obama signed an executive order deferring deportation action on such cases.
"We have seen an unprecedented number of deportations in the past few years - in a few weeks we expect to reach 2 million deportations," said immigrant rights activist Enrique Morones, who helped to organize the protest. "People who were raised here and know no other culture, have no family in Mexico, have never been arrested, are being deported."
Morones said that of the 35 people who applied for asylum after the earlier mass arrival on Monday, one had been granted an asylum hearing, one was returned to Mexico and the other 33 remain in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)detention.
A request for comment from ICE was referred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which did immediately return a call from Reuters.
Last year, an immigration reform package that included a path to citizenship for the undocumented passed the U.S. Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives, where it lacked Republican support.
On Thursday, Obama directed his Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration laws "more humanely," the White House said.
Despite some support, congressional Republicans are divided over immigration reform and party leaders have made clear that legislation is unlikely to be taken up before the November congressional elections.
GUNFIRE AND FEAR
Because they do not qualify for deferred deportation under Obama's rule, the group is asking for asylum based on fear that they will be harmed if they remain in Mexico, Morones said.
Miriam Rodriguez, 26, said she heard gunfire every night when she lived in the violence-torn city of Juarez, leading her to send her U.S.-born children to live with relatives in Chicago.
Dorado said he had "many bad experiences" in Mexico.
"I hope the U.S. will see this and let me go back to my family," he said.
But Esther Valdes, an immigration attorney in San Diego, said the applicants' chances are slim.
"The credible fear has to be found for each person individually, based on what has happened to them," she explained. "It has to be more than a generalized fear."
For example, Valdes said, she currently has two dozen asylum-seeking clients, including a family in which the son was killed and the daughter raped.
Rodriguez, who came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old, moved to Juarez with her children after her husband was deported there in 2011. But with their children, ages 5 and 8, now back in Chicago, she longs to be with them.
"I sent them to my sister so they can be safe and educated," she said.
(Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Ken Wills)