(NEW YORK) -- Nine activists who were brought to the United States illegally as children are being detained in Arizona after they tried to re-enter the U.S. in order to protest increased deportations, according to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
Six of the undocumented adults had either been deported or returned to Mexico on their own more than a year ago, leaving behind family in the U.S., said Domenic Powell, a volunteer coordinator with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Three others left for Mexico to take part in the protest.
"These are people who have spent most of their lives in the United States. This truly is their home," Powell said.
"They wanted to take a stand for all of the people that want to come home, and at the end of the day they're in the same situation," he said.
The undocumented immigrants comprise a group known as DREAMers, the term being used to describe people who were brought to the United States illegally as young children. They are a group that has been at the forefront of the comprehensive immigration reform debate, as lawmakers consider crafting a bill to offer them a path to citizenship.
However, it's a move those young adults say only addresses a fraction of the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States and something they fear could further separate their families.
Lizbeth Mateo, 29, who is poised to start classes at Santa Clara Law School in California next month, came to the United States when she was 10. Mateo was one of the three people who risked their livelihoods in the United States to participate in the protest, said Mohammad Abdollahi, an organizer with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
"For her and the other two students, it's just a personal relationship with folks we know who have been deported," Abdollahi said. "We want the Obama administration to understand we're not going to let deportations separate our families any more."
The number of foreign-born people deported in 2006 was 280,974, while in 2011, that number increased to 391,953 people, according to the Department of Homeland Security's 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials detained the group on Monday after they filed applications for humanitarian parole at the Nogales border crossing.
Federal officials said they were prohibited from discussing specific cases, however, said in a statement that immigration law requires people seeking to enter the country to bear the burden of proof to establish eligibility.
Abdollahi said he received a call from one of the people in the group who said they are being detained in Eloy, Ariz., as authorities sort through their cases.
"They all took that risk knowing they could essentially not come back," Abdollahi said.
"We're going to be putting a lot of pressure on lawmakers to really bring them home," he said. "It's really in their hands at the end of the day."
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