Untraditional Path to Citizenship: Leaving the US

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Marco Saavedra (lower right) and other members of the DREAM 9 group of undocumented immigration activists, before heading back to the U.S. border to seek asylum. (Photo by National Immigration Youth Alliance/Facebook)

When undocumented Mexican-American activist Marco Saavedra and eight other immigration activists from the group DREAM 9 crossed the U.S. border into Mexico, their futures remained largely in the dark.

Robin Elisabeth Kilmer of the Manhattan Times chronicled Saavedra’s journey from New York City to Mexico and back again, in a daring and successful search for U.S. citizenship along an untraditional path.

Each member of the group, which called itself the DREAM 9, including Saavedra, was an undocumented immigrant. They chose to challenge an immigration system they say is broken, with little opportunity to succeed for those who traveled as young children with family to the United States and have been raised here as American, but still lacking legitimate status as residents.

Saavedra had a risky plan: upon reentering the U.S., apply for asylum and obtain citizenship that way.

“We were expecting to be detained for months. We didn’t know how it was going to go over,” Saavedra told the Manhattan Times.

After just a week in a detention center, he was granted humanitarian parole while filing for asylum. Now he’s happily returned to his home in the South Bronx.

While Saavedra and his friends were successful in their daring attempt at citizenship, their case is untraditional. Their activist group DREAM 9 had drummed up media attention for their cause last year when members infiltrated an immigration detention center.

By the time DREAM 9 crossed the border, they had the backing of dozens of members of Congress by way of a signed letter to President Obama.

Without the benefit of the media storm DREAM 9 received, just a fraction of asylum-seekers from Mexico are approved. In 2011 they accounted for only 1 percent of those granted asylum.

“There’s such a fear of creating a precedent for asylum,” Saavedra said.

Saavedra expressed hope that his actions and those of DREAM 9 would generate leniency toward Mexican asylum seekers in the future.

“This is a continuation of the struggle in my family, not just to make a living and live in dignity,” Saavedra said. “The things we fought for we already should have had as a human right.”

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