Four young immigration activists, three undocumented, were arrested for trespass when they refused to leave U.S. Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office after closing.
Initially, five activists, all dressed in graduation caps and gowns, launched a sit-in around lunchtime, while about 50 supporters chanted and cheered them outside. Just before 6 p.m., Tania Unzueta, a 26-year-old who has lived in Chicago since she was 10, came out to serve as a spokesperson, saying she had the weakest immigration case.
She cried as she waited for the arrests. “I know how they’re feeling right now. They’re scared, but they know this is the right thing to do.”
The activists were part of a larger coalition of student-aged activists who are demanding that Congress revisit the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for students who meet certain requirements, including living in the United States for five consecutive years, arriving before the age of 16, and completing a high school or general equivalency diploma.
In 2007, then-presidential contender McCain was absent for a vote on the act, which failed to advance in the Senate by eight votes.
McCain’s office released a statement saying that while he understands the students’ frustrations, “elections have consequences and they should focus their efforts on the President and the Democrats that control the agenda in Congress.”
One of those arrested, 25-year-old Lizbeth Mateo, came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 14. She became the first in her family to graduate from high school and said she graduated from California State University with a bachelor’s in chicano studies. While she took the test for law school, she said, she couldn’t take any scholarships because of her status.
“I’ve been a good student. I’ve never been in trouble,” she said, adding she’s willing to take the risk that she’ll be deported. “Living life this way without hope is not enough.”
Mohammad Abdollahi, a 24-year-old from Iran who lives in Michigan, was also arrested, saying he’s willing to face deportation as well. “It’s a risk everybody in our community faces on a daily basis. And at the end of the day, we need a solution.”
The other two arrestees include 27-year-old Raúl Alcaraz, a legal permanent resident who lives in Tucson, and Yahaira Cariillo, who is originally from Mexico but lives in Kansas City.
A police van backed up to the office doors, allowing the crowd only a brief glimpse of the waving arrestees.
Flavia de la Fuente, the spokeswoman for the group and a 22-year-old political science student at UCLA, said the goal is to create a “moral crisis” that will trigger rallies, vigils, hunger strikes and other demonstrations across the nation.
While other protests are planned at congressional offices of both parties across the country, de la Fuente said Arizona was picked as a battleground both because McCain in the past was a supporter of the act, and because of the new immigration law. “I think a standard based on enforcement and racial profiling is not a standard America wants for its immigration policy,” she said. Although racial profiling is expressly prohibited in the law, she said the vagueness of the law will make profiling the natural result.