Immigrant Students Face Deportation After Protest at McCain Arizona Office

Undocumented students are calling on Congress to pass the Dream Act.

May 19, 2010, 11:40 AM

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2010— -- Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented Iranian immigrant, takes the finger-pointing in Congress over stalled immigration legislation personally.

The gay Ann Arbor, Michigan, resident, who was brought to the United States illegally when he was 3, now faces deportation to a country he has never known and where homosexuality is a capital crime.

Abdollahi, 24, and two other illegal immigrant students dressed in blue graduation caps and gowns Monday staged a sit-in at the Tucson, Ariz., offices of Sen. John McCain, who has withheld support for legislation that would give conditional path to citizenship for Adbollahi and thousands of immigrants brought here illegally at a young age.

The students, who were allowed to peacefully protest inside the McCain offices all day, were ultimately arrested by local police for criminal trespassing and later transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Officials released the trio from detention late Tuesday and initiated deportation proceedings for the weeks ahead.

"It's not only Sen. McCain we're looking for and holding accountable, there's senators all across the country we're holding accountable," Abdollahi said. "We're telling them you've been asking for a long time for somebody to step up and take leadership on this -- none of you have been willing to do so -- so as non-citizens, we've taken that lead."

"McCain was supportive of the Dream Act in the past... we saw him as a champion in some ways, and we hope that comes back," said Abdollahi.

A McCain spokesperson told ABC News the senator will support the so-called "Dream Act" as part of comprehensive immigration legislation but only after the Southwest border with Mexico is "secured."

McCain and fellow GOP Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl have been calling on President Obama to deploy National Guard troops along the border in their state.

McCain is scheduled to meet with four representatives of the Tucson student protesters today to explain his views.

"Elections have consequences, and they [the students] should focus their efforts on the president and the Democrats that control the agenda in Congress," McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in a statement.

Obama has urged Congress to take up immigration legislation and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the body has not given up on the agenda item, but neither has committed to a time frame for getting something done.

"We need a Republican, we need Republican support, and McCain is a leader in the Senate," said Lizabeth Mateo, who was also arrested Monday and faces deportation.

Parents Willingly Assumed the Risk

Meanwhile, student immigrant activists are trying to draw attention to their case in bold new ways and risking deportation at the same time. Four illegal immigrant students completed a four-month, 1,500-mile protest last month through five politically conservative states, from Miami to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the issue.

The students in the Tucson protest hail from across the country and represent a broad coalition of grassroots student groups. Mateo, 25, is an undocumented graduate of California State University, Riverside, and Yahaira Carrillo, 25, is a student at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri.

"[Lawmakers] are playing politics with our lives," said Mateo. "I'm going to fight my case to stay here. The thought of being deported is a scary one, but the thought of having to wait one or two more years for a Dream Act to pass is scarier."

An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year, according to the nonpartisan research group Urban Institute. Many are not eligible to hold jobs or go on to college because of their status.

Some conservative immigration groups have expressed sympathy for the students' plight but insist the students ought to be forced to return to their native countries.

"When you break the law as a parent, you're assuming a certain amount of risk, and frequently your children are affected by that," said Dan Stein, president of Federation for American Immigration Reform. "That's what happened in this case: The parents assumed a certain amount of risk on behalf of the kids, some of the kids have done well in school, but unless there's a humanitarian basis or extraordinary circumstance, why wouldn't it be in the best interest of the sending country to take talent and capable people to work at building their own countries?"

The Dream Act, which has existed in various legislative forms for nearly a decade, is a narrow immigration provision that applies only to young adults who entered the country illegally, often at the hands of their parents, before the age of 16. It would provide a six-year-long conditional path to legal status that would include a clean criminal record and mandatory completion of a college degree or two years of military service among other things.

A Dream for 1 Million Young People

The Dream measure has 37 co-sponsors in the Senate, including one Republican, Richard Lugar, R-Ind. It has 118 supporters in the House.

If passed, the Dream Act would extend eligible resident status to an estimated 1 million children and young adults, according to a 2006 study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

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