SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Dozens of young migrants trying to cross from Mexico presented themselves to U.S. border inspectors without legal documents Monday, expressing frustration with the pace of efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration laws and protesting a growing number of deportations under President Barack Obama's watch.
Men and women in green, purple and yellow graduation caps and gowns marched several blocks through the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, to the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego, shouting “Texas,” “California,” “Arizona” and “Carolina.” Mothers walked with their young children. Some wore T-shirts that read, “I Am Undocumented.”
The protest, modeled on similar efforts last year when demonstrators claimed asylum at border crossings in Arizona and Texas, is one of the bolder tactics employed by advocates of looser U.S. immigration laws. More mainstream advocacy groups have focused on persuading members of Congress to support a broad overhaul backed by Obama.
Elvira Arellano, a Mexican woman who was deported in 2007 after taking refuge in a Chicago church for a year, led about 100 people in a noisy but peaceful protest on the Mexican side of the border that occupied two vehicle lanes at one of the nation's busiest crossings.
“President Obama has failed in his promise of immigration reform,” Arellano told the crowd. “He has promised immigration reform, and what he's given us is 2 million deportations.”
About 30 people attempted to enter the U.S., said Rocio Hernandez, an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. The number was far lower than what organizers predicted, but Hernandez said it may rise to 150 throughout the week as organizers tried to keep authorities guessing.
“Tomorrow it may be 50, the next day it might be 100,” said Hernandez, a Mexican woman who grew up in North Carolina and planned to ask permission to enter the U.S. later this week after being denied last year in the Texas protest. “It's all part of the strategy. We have to keep everyone on their toes.”
People who claim asylum are interviewed by authorities to determine if their claims are credible, then either released or held in custody pending the outcome of cases. To be granted asylum, an immigration judge must find that an applicant suffered persecution or has a well-grounded fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said privacy laws prohibit the agency from saying what happened to those who tried to enter the country Monday.
The protesters call themselves “dreamers,” after the Dream Act, failed legislation to allow some young immigrants to stay in the country. In 2012, the Obama administration announced regulations that allowed some young people to stay with two-year renewable permits and authorization to work.
As protesters gathered outside a Tijuana health clinic, Angelica Lopez, 22, said she planned to cross with her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, both U.S. citizens, and hoped to reunite with the rest of her family in Mesa, Ariz., where she graduated high school. She said she returned to Mexico voluntarily to see her ailing grandfather just before Obama announced the two-year permits.
“We hope to touch someone's heart, to touch someone's conscience,” said Lopez, who wore a purple cap and gown.
Rene Apcho, 26, said he lived in Atlanta for 18 years until he was cited for driving without a license in 2009 and deported to Lima, Peru. He flew to Tijuana to join the protest and planned to claim asylum.
“I want to go home (to Atlanta) and finish what I started,” he said. “All the years I went to school I don't want to go to waste.”
The U.S. had 2 million deportations during the last five fiscal years, topping 400,000 in 2012 before dropping last year.