By David McCabe
Marco Saavedra ’11 was released from jail last Thursday, Sept. 8 after his arrest in Charlotte, N.C. (“Kenyon Alumnus Arrested at Protest,” Sept. 8, 2011). As part of a protest against several recent policies affecting immigration enforcement, he publicly revealed himself as an undocumented immigrant. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and impeding traffic on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The protestors never attempted to hide that many of them were undocumented, according to Saavedra. “When we went in to be processed by immigration, we made a decision as a group that we would be as blunt and straightforward about our citizenship status, when we came into the country, and where we were from, so that they would search that, but we didn’t give them any information about our families,” he said.
He explained why public records show that an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer was placed on him while local authorities told The Charlotte Observer that no detainers were issued. On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 6, officials were told not to proceed with immigration charges against the seven being held, Saavedra said.
“They came by and they took the paper away that said there was an ICE hold on me and that I was a Mexican national. For the women, they actually tore the paper up,” he said.
Saavedra and the six others who “came out” as undocumented did so to protest what they say is a tide of anti-immigrant legislation that has come down from Congress in the last few years, including the Secure Communities Act, which allows local law enforcement officials to investigate the immigration status of people arrested for something as small as a traffic violation, and the 287(g) program, which trained local law enforcement officers in immigration enforcement.
The latter program, Saavedra says, has blurred the lines for immigrants dealing with the criminal justice system. “You don’t know where immigration enforcement ends and where the criminal
justice system begins, or vice versa, because these are just police officers who have been trained in immigration enforcement,” he said.
Saavedra also said the Obama administration has placed undocumented students in limbo, because, through administrative memos that do not carry the full force of the law, it has directed federal officials to deprioritize the deportation of undocumented youth who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, but it has not enabled easier access to higher education or citizenship for undocumented students.
“I guess the purpose was to get immigration enforcement to come after us and to highlight, as one of the protesters said, ‘We are not a priority for immigration or education,'” Saavedra said. “You’re kind of in eternal purgatory. You’re not going to get citizenship but you’re also not going to get deported.”
In North Carolina, undocumented students who attended high school in-state must pay out-of-state tuition for community colleges like the one where the protest was held. Because undocumented students are more likely to live below the poverty line, Saavedra said that asking them to pay out-of-state tuition, which is four times the in-state price, amounts to making undocumented students into “second-class citizens.” Additionally, they must wait to register for classes until all other students have done so, making it difficult to fulfill graduation requirements and to get into popular classes.
Saavedra will return to North Carolina for a hearing on his criminal charges in October, but he is no longer at risk of deportation as a result of those charges. He is still at risk of being deported, however, because Secure Communities is active in Hamilton County, Ohio, where he lives.
“As an undocumented immigrant, I’m still at risk. If I got into a car and drove without a license and got pulled over for a minor traffic violation, I would go through the whole process again,” he said.
True to his reputation as someone who cares more about the cause then his own personal situation, Saavedra made sure to note that the situation is much worse in Butler County, which neighbors Hamilton County. There, 287(g) is active, and the county contains a much higher population of immigrants.
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