RALEIGH — Uriel Alberto, one of three illegal immigrants who tried to send a message months ago by interrupting a legislative hearing, had hoped to get his say in court on Monday.
But the 25-year-old Mexican native was late and missed his opportunity for a trial in Wake County District Court.
Instead, the paralegal from Winston-Salem entered an Alford plea, agreeing there was enough evidence to convict him, but not acknowledging guilt. His attorney Scott Holmes immediately appealed, a legal maneuver that sends the case to Superior Court and offers Alberto another opportunity for a trial.
Judge Erin Graber, who presided over the case on Monday, admonished Alberto for being late. She told him there were other ways than disrupting legislative hearings to get his message across.
Though Graber had issued an arrest warrant Monday morning when Alberto was not present, she and the prosecutors agreed not to arrest him after he arrived an hour late.
Alberto said his tardiness represents one of many vexing issues confronting a generation of illegal immigrants. Brought here as children by parents seeking a better life, many consider themselves Americans in their hearts and minds, but without the rights of citizenship.
Alberto said he had to have someone drive him to Raleigh from his home in Winston-Salem because he cannot get a drivers license in this country.
Alberto, who was arrested at the State Legislative Building on Feb. 29 with two others, decided to step out of the shadows so legislators debating immigration policies could attach faces to issues that stir impassioned debate.
As legislators talked about stricter laws, Alberto, Estephania Mijangos and Cynthia Martinez rose from their seats to announce that they were undocumented and unafraid. They were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
They were all members of the NC Dream Team, an organization of undocumented immigrant youths and their allies working to raise awareness about the issues that confound a generation.
Mijangos and Martinez, neither of whom had previous trouble with the law, entered a first-time offender program that allows them to do community service, and if they stay clear of further offences, have their charges dismissed.
Alberto has had other scrapes with the law a DWI charge and several charges related to driving without a license. Though he was charged with assault on a female after a skirmish several years ago with his wife, that charge was dropped after she pleaded with authorities not to deport him.
Alberto said he risked arrest and possible deportation to make a point.
It was a little bit of rebellion against the status quo, Alberto said Monday outside a Wake County courtroom. There was no disorderly conduct.
Graber sentenced Alberto to 15 days in jail, which he served earlier this year after his arrest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put a detention hold on him and began deportation procedures because he had a previous record. Those actions are stalled pending the outcome of his disorderly conduct case.
Alberto has become a rallying figure for advocates of immigration reform that would give young illegal immigrants opportunities to go to college and get work permits in this country.
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