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A rare victory for immigrant rights

September 9, 2005 | Page 12

FOUR LATINO students recently avoided deportation from Arizona in a rare decision by a federal immigration judge.

The students, known as the "Wilson Four," are highly successful, recognized for their achievements in science while in high school. All four currently attend college. But they were brought to the U.S. from Mexico as young children without any documentation. Despite being exemplary students, they still faced the wrath of anti-immigrant policies--and the open racism behind these policies.

The students, Yuliana Huicochea, Jaime Damian, Oscar Corona and Luis Nava, were detained three years ago while on a field trip in Buffalo, N.Y. While at Niagra Falls, their teacher asked immigration officials if it would be possible for the four to cross into Canada.

The students did not actually leave the U.S., but that didn't matter. Simply being Mexican-American was enough. The four students testified that a U.S. immigration supervisor told them: "In Arizona, they may not stick out because there are a lot of Hispanics, but in Buffalo, they were eventually going to get questioned."

The four students were then subjected to nine hours of interrogation. Three were still minors at the time, and were illegally denied the right to have a parent present. The fourth, Nava, who was of age, was repeatedly and illegally denied the right to have a lawyer present.

The students also testified that several of the immigration officials who questioned them regularly used racist epithets during the interrogation. Their school principal, Jane Juliano, testified that when an immigration officer contacted her, looking for the students' birth certificates, he told her, "Don't send your illegals to New York."

The evidence of racial profiling, mistreatment and denial of basic rights of due process were enough for Judge John Richardson to throw the case out. Their experience gives lie to anti-immigrant bigots who claim they aren't racist, but just want laws to be "enforced."

When the students' case went public, the racists filled the local news, denouncing them as criminals--ignoring their success in this country, despite the odds. The students' case, though, did gain widespread support in Arizona. The four are hoping to use that support to win passage of the DREAM bill before Congress, which would allow children who are brought to the U.S. without documentation to gain citizenship more easily.
Jeff Bale, Phoenix

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