Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Officials want Michigan student in custody in immigration protest at McCain's office

Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

Immigration officials were seeking custody today of an undocumented Ann Arbor activist and two others that were in an Arizona jail after lobbying for immigration reform.

Mohammad Abdollahi was among the four students arrested on misdemeanor charges Monday after a daylong sit-in at Sen. John McCain's office in Tuscon, Ariz.

The students were expected to be released until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped in, said Flavia de la Fuenta, spokesperson for five student activist groups across the country lobbying for reform.


Vincent Picard, spokesperson for ICE in Arizona, confirmed that paperwork was filed to take Abdollahi and the two others into custody after their cases are completed with law enforcement. One student was not detained because he is a permanent U.S. resident.

Once in custody -- which could occur today -- immigration officials will determine if the students are in the country illegally, Picard said. If so, officials will make a custody determination, which could range from a release and a notice to appear in court to a supervised release program. Immigration proceedings would follow.

"We have reason to believe they might be in the country unlawfully," Picard said.

The students were fully aware they could face deportation after a sit-in, said de la Fuenta, a student at University of California, Los Angeles. But they were willing to face the risks to encourage passage of the DREAM Act -- legislation that would grant citizenship to youths who travel to the United States before the age of 16 and attain a two-year university degree or two-year commitment in the armed forces.

"We want to set a standard for what immigration reform should look like," de la Fuenta said. "It should be based on education and hard work."

Abdollahi's family came to the United States from Iran when he was 3 so his father could work on a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He attended Washtenaw Community College and sought to attend Eastern Michigan University but was unable to because of his citizenship status.

He has since co-founded OneMichigan, a statewide organization lobbying for passage of the DREAM Act, and DreamActivist.org, a resource for undocumented students.

"Never in our history has it been American to deny people their civil rights," Abdollahi said in a prepared statement. "We have decided to peacefully resist to encourage our leaders to pass the DREAM Act and create a new standard for immigration reform based on education, hard work, equality and fairness."

Through a spokesperson, McCain said students have a right to protest.

"Sen. McCain understands the students' frustrations," Brooke Buchanan, a McCain spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement. Students involved in OneMichigan held a press conference today and were planning a vigil later tonight in Lansing.

"Many students are in the same state of limbo," said Priscila Martinez, a U-M student involved in the movement. "Nationally there are at least 65,000 high school graduates without ... the ability to go into higher education."

Abdollahi's arrest comes as immigration reform has heated up nationally and in Michigan following passage of a controversial law in Arizona last month.

Soon after, Michigan state Rep. Kim Meltzer, R-Clinton Township, drafted a bill similar to the Arizona law that would give law enforcement the authority to arrest undocumented immigrants who are questioned on another offense. Meanwhile, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is making immigration a key topic in his race for the Republican nomination for Michigan governor.

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