They walked into the North Carolina legislative meeting on cracking down on illegal immigration wearing T-shirts that declared “Undocumented and Unafraid.”
They shouted their opposition after Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, decried undocumented immigrants as the source of drug and gun crime. Three Latino protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
But immigration officials now say they will not be deported.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Atlanta said Thursday that the agency won't pursue the two because their cases don't match the priorities of deporting people with criminal records and avoiding those brought to the U.S. as children.
ICE spokesman Vincent Picard says the third person has a criminal history and will require further review. He would not say which person ICE continues to investigate.
General Assembly police charged 24-year-old Uriel Alberto of Winston-Salem, 20-year-old Estephania Mijangos-Lopez of Sanford, and 21-year-old Cynthia Martinez of Broadway with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for disrupting a Wednesday immigration panel.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates North Carolina ranks ninth in population among the states with what it calls 325,000 unauthorized immigrants, defined as foreign-born citizens of other countries who aren't undocumented immigrants.
Viridiana Martinez, 25, of Raleigh said she's undocumented and has lived in North Carolina since her parents brought her to the state at age 7. She noted that the 12-member House Select Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy is stocked with some of the chamber's most ardent backers of state action to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
"That says to me that these folks are out to come after us. They're going to do whatever it takes to make the situation as terrible as possible right here in our home to make us leave" said Martinez, a freelance interpreter. "We're not going to remain quiet about it."
The protesters had been booked at the Wake County Jail, which has officers authorized to check immigration status and turn over non-U.S. citizens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A jail spokeswoman had said after the protesters’ arrests that information about the three was going to be turned over to ICE.
The committee also heard from representatives of the home building, construction and farming industries.
North Carolina Home Builders Association lobbyist Lisa Martin said her group supported Congress, not states, addressing immigration. While government should back training and retraining programs for the construction trades, "the home-building industry needs a strong and ready workforce," she said.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.