Supporters stage Kan. vigil for 'Dream 9' group
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Nine immigrant activists detained in Arizona after demanding re-entry from Mexico on humanitarian grounds are now on a hunger strike seeking their release, supporters and family members said Friday.
Among those pleading for the group's freedom were the Wichita sisters of 37-year-old Claudia Amaro, a member of the group dubbed the "Dream 9" following their detentions Monday. Her family spoke at a news conference and prayer vigil Friday in Wichita organized by Sunflower Community Action.
Amaro was brought illegally into the U.S. as a child after her father and uncle were killed in Mexico, family members said. She lived in the United States for more than 20 years but returned to Mexico six years ago with her U.S.-born son after her husband's deportation. Her husband was deported after pleading guilty to using a false Social Security card. Amaro had been charged with falsely representing herself as a U.S. citizen, but prosecutors dropped that case.
Her 31-year-old sister, Angelica Amaro, told reporters Friday that her own fear of deportation has kept her silent.
"Up to this point that fear has been greater than the fear of speaking out about the injustice immigrants face in this country. But no more," she said. "My sister made the hard decision too. I am proud of her and I am proud of her choice. ... She has chosen to put her body on the line to protect her family, to protect her son and to protect justice."
Claudia Amaro was arrested Monday when she and other activists who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children and later returned to Mexico staged a well-publicized return to the U.S. at Nogales, Ariz. They were detained after filing applications for humanitarian parole.
Some of the activists were with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Mohammad Abbollahi, an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, said in a phone interview Friday that the detained activists began a hunger strike at 2 p.m. Thursday seeking their release. He said group members have been threatened with solitary confinement if they skipped another meal.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement late Friday saying the agency is limited on what case-specific details it can provide due to privacy concerns.
"ICE takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care very seriously," the agency said. "In 2009, ICE initiated fundamental detention reforms including the development of new detention standards and the agency is continually working to ensure these reforms are consistently implemented at all facilities that house ICE detainees."
Another of Claudia Amaro's sisters, 34-year-old Brenda Amaro, recounted for reporters the difficulties her sister's family encountered after returning to Mexico, a country she barely remembered, six years ago. The couple's 13-year-old son, who is now living with his grandmother in Arizona, was mistreated by his peers in Mexico because he speaks with an American accent. Her husband, Yamil Yaujar, was abducted by gang members and held until the family could pay his ransom, her sister said.
Brenda Amaro said her sister had "nothing to lose" when she joined the protest in Nogales.
"She joined them to expose the fact she is without no country, to expose harsh deportation policies of the Obama administration. She joined them to expose the harsh conditions in detention centers," Brenda Amaro said. "She is doing this not just for herself and her family, she is doing this for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country."
Claudia Amaro's husband was deported after pleading guilty in 2005 to misuse of a Social Security number and making a false statement, court records show. He admitted the couple opened a checking account using a false Social Security number. He also admitted using a false Social Security number on tax returns and in a bankruptcy case sparked by foreclosure proceedings on their home.
The case against his wife, who at the time was using her married name of Claudia A. Yaujar, was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled. It was not clear from court records whether she too was deported. Federal prosecutors said at the time that they had an ongoing investigation and anticipated of filing additional charges against her in the future.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)