HILLSBOROUGH — Fourteen Hispanics arrested this week face deportation after their Cuban-American smugglers drew police attention during a fight in a McDonald's parking lot.
"All have been placed in removal proceedings and will have the opportunity to present the facts of their case before an immigration judge," Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote in an e-mail message.
Eight men are being held in the Alamance County jail. Four women are being detained in Mecklenberg County.
A Salvadoran woman and her 4-year-old nephew were released into the custody of their nation's consulate in Washington. The woman will face an immigration judge at a later date.
The other people are from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Yuliant Fernandez, 32, and Amilcar Tamayo, 31, both Cuban Americans from Houston, were transporting the group to various locations between Tennessee and Massachusetts when they stopped at the McDonald's at Interstate 85 and N.C. 86. The two men fought; a witness called police about 9 p.m. Tuesday and reported that a knife and a gun might be involved.
Officers caught up with their 14-passenger van shortly on I-85 one exit west, at Old N.C. 86. Though police found no weapons, Fernandez and Tamayo were both arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Both men are in the United States legally, and they are being held in the Orange County jail.
Police had to figure out what to do about their passengers.
Hillsborough Police Chief Clarence Birkhead said he contacted various shelters and the American Red Cross.
"At that time of night, nothing was available," Birkhead said. "My objective was to deal with the criminal element and then not to leave them sitting on I-85 at 2 o'clock in the morning."
Birkhead summoned ICE agents from Raleigh, who took the 14 passengers into custody.
Birkhead said the large number of people prompted him to contact federal authorities. He said he thinks the passengers might be deported but that it is up to ICE.
"I don't get into how they do what they do, because that's not my responsibility. I hope people understand that," Birkhead said. "Everything, as far as I'm concerned, worked out for the best for everybody involved."
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