Uriel Alberto’s time in jail highlights immigration policy battle

Alberto proclaimed his undocumented status during U.S. House hearing

ablythe@newsobserver.com March 12, 2012 

— Twitter and online petition campaigns are under way to stop the deportation of a Winston-Salem man arrested last month at a legislative meeting about the state’s role in immigration policy.

Uriel Alberto, a 24-year-old native of Mexico in this country for nearly 17 years, has used his Feb. 29 arrest to raise awareness about a generation of immigrants in this country without documentation.

The father of a toddler, who waged a hunger strike in the Wake County jail until Monday, hopes to have a bond hearing later this week in a Charlotte immigration court.

Since the disorderly conduct charge on Feb. 29, Alberto has been on an immigration hold in the Wake County jail.

Beckie Moriello, a Raleigh lawyer representing Alberto in his quest for pre-trial release, said she plans to file a bond motion today in federal court and ask for a hearing as soon as Thursday.

If that happens and bail is granted, Alberto could get out of jail while his disorderly conduct case pends.

If bond is not granted, he could be transferred to an immigration detention center, likely to the one in Stewart, Ga. From there, he would face deportation but could still fight for what is referred to as a cancellation of removal.

Aspects a judge could consider in such cases are whether the applicant has been in this country for at least 10 years, has good moral character and has a child who is a U.S. citizen who would suffer extreme hardship if a parent were deported.

A rallying force

In rallies outside the jail, on Twitter pages with the hashtag #FreeUriel and in online petitions, supporters are urging others to call and write Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to stop the deportation process.

He has become a rallying force for advocates of a Dream Act, which would give undocumented students brought here illegally by their parents an opportunity to get permanent resident status and the education that would afford.

“He took a brave stand for immigrant rights, and now he may get deported for it,” Facebook and Twitter pages state.

The case stems from an incident in the Legislative Building on Feb. 29, when Alberto and two others, Estephania Mijangos and Cynthia Martinez, all members of the NC DREAM Team, rose from their seats at a meeting of the House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy and declared that they were in this country without legal permission.

“My name is Uriel Alberto,” the young man said at the hearing. “I am undocumented and I am unafraid. I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by this committee and choose to empower my community.”

The three demonstrators were taken to Wake County jail, but an immigration hold was put on Alberto only, the sole one of the three with a police record.

Awaiting decisions

A track star in high school, Alberto had dreams of attending college and running for a team there. But he was not immediately able to pursue that dream. Without a legitimate Social Security number, he was unable to get financial aid.

Around that time, he had several brushes with the law and was convicted of speeding, driving while impaired, driving with a revoked license and throwing fruit at a moving vehicle. He also was accused of domestic violence, but that charge was dismissed.

Now he awaits a decision by two courts — state court officials in Wake County, who will weigh the disorderly conduct charge, and immigration courts, which will decide whether he will be deported back to Mexico.

His case, in some ways, has become a test of policy set last summer by President Barack Obama.

It was then the president said immigration authorities would put a higher priority on deporting immigrants with serious criminal records. Being in the U.S. without legal permission is a civil offense, not a criminal offense.

Many thought the new policy would allow immigration officials to weigh when and how that person came to the United States and whether an education was being pursued here.

A poll released in December by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., shows that by a ratio of more than two to one, 59 percent to 27 percent, Latinos do not approve of how the Obama administration handles deportations.

Deportations under Obama have risen to an annual average of about 400,000 since 2009, the Pew researchers found, almost 30 percent higher than the annual average during the second Bush administration term. The Obama annual average is almost double the annual average of George W. Bush’s first term.

Blythe: 919-836-4948 or @AnneBlythe1

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