Nine immigration activists, the so-called "Dream 9," were freed Wednesday from the Eloy Detention Center after more than two weeks of being held in federal custody for attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. in protest of American immigration policy.
They were arrested July 22 in Nogales, Ariz., as they tried to call attention to hundreds of thousands who have been deported during President Barack Obama's administration.
The National Immigrant Youth Alliance announced their release.
Earlier this week, the Homeland Security Department tentatively approved asylum requests for the nine immigrants. The department ruled the nine have a "credible fear" of being persecuted if they are sent back to Mexico.
An immigration judge will have the final say on whether they can remain permanently in the U.S., but such a ruling could take years.
"I am good, very excited. It's a big surprise," said 22-year-old Maria Peniche, one of the nine activists.
According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review — the Justice Department agency that runs immigration courts — new cases for immigrants not being held in detention are being scheduled in Arizona for 2014.
Meanwhile, the nine immigrants could be eligible for a work permit in the future.
The nine spent part of their lives in the U.S. Some returned voluntarily to Mexico years ago, while others had been deported. Three of them were raised in the U.S. and left the country for Mexico expressly to participate in the protest when they attempted to cross the border in Nogales.
The immigrants were pushing for legislation being considered in Congress to offer eventual citizenship to some immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
House Republicans recently took a tentative step toward offering citizenship to some immigrants who fit into this category, but Democrats said it wasn't enough.
The dismissive reaction to the Republican proposal underscored the difficulties of finding an immigration reform compromise in the Republican-led House.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.