McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Twenty-five of the 26 immigrants who remain in federal custody after they surrendered to authorities at the Texas-Mexico border last week to protest immigration policies have completed another step in their requests for asylum, their lawyer said Tuesday.
The 25 being held at an immigration detention center in El Paso completed their "credible fear" interviews with U.S. immigration officials on Monday, said attorney David Bennion. He participated in some of the interviews and coordinated additional lawyers to accompany the others.
They are among 34 immigrants who marched across the bridge connecting Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and Laredo, Texas on Sept. 30, knowing they did not have the legal status to enter the country. They hoped to reunite with their families and draw attention to others like themselves who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but who were not present last year when the U.S. tweaked its immigration policy offering them provisional legal status to remain.
They all requested asylum as a means to stay in the U.S. and their interviews Monday were a step in that process.
"It's basically an evaluation of the asylum claim to see if each individual has a credible fear of persecution in their home country and if so on what grounds," Bennion said. "It's clear to me that each of them does."
They now await word on whether their cases will be assigned to a judge for full asylum proceedings.
One unaccompanied minor remained in separate custody for juveniles in San Antonio, but Bennion said he was hopeful he would be released soon to his parents. Last week eight of the original group — minors with their parents — were paroled pending appearances before immigration judges.
The protest followed a similar effort in Arizona in July, when nine young immigrants dubbed the "Dream Nine," presented themselves at the border in Nogales, Arizona. They too spent a couple of weeks in custody before passing their credible fear interviews and being paroled.
The protesters say they missed out on a change to U.S. immigration regulations in June 2012 that gave something called deferred action to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Those who were in the U.S. at that time and met a list of criteria could apply for a renewable two-year deferment and work authorization.
The immigrants who participated in the Sept. 30 protest said they returned to their countries of birth before that announcement was made, in some cases just days before, making them ineligible.
The common thread in their credible fear interviews Monday, was that their U.S. upbringing made them stand out back in their birth countries — all but one of the remaining immigrants are from Mexico — Bennion said. That distinction makes them vulnerable targets for extortion and kidnapping.
Many have other grounds for their fears as well, including: persecution of gays and lesbians, family members killed by organized crime, mistreatment of indigenous groups and gender-based violence, Bennion said.