PHOENIX -- A growing number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona and other states are taking immigration protests to a new extreme, staging acts of civil disobedience by deliberately getting arrested in order to be turned over to federal immigration officials.
Often wearing T-shirts declaring themselves "undocumented and unafraid," the protesters have sat down in streets and blocked traffic, or occupied buildings in several cities including Phoenix and Tucson.
Dozens of protesters have been arrested, but in almost every case, federal immigration officers have declined to deport those in the country illegally. Protesters say they are planning more acts of civil disobedience.
The acts are intended to openly defy stepped-up immigration enforcement that has led to record deportations over the past three years. In Arizona, protesters are focused now on enforcement of a portion of the state's Senate Bill 1070 immigration law.
By getting arrested, immigrants say they are making a point: Illegal immigrants who are part of this country shouldn't have to live in fear of being deported and deserve to live here legally. They also think immigration authorities are less likely to deport illegal immigrants arrested in public because the government doesn't want the negative attention.
"Honestly, I can tell you I have never felt as free as when I was sitting in the middle of the street and when I was chanting â??undocumented and unafraid,'" said Daniela Cruz, 21. She is one of six undocumented immigrants arrested in March after blocking an intersection in front of a school in west Phoenix.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say unwanted publicity has nothing to with the agency's decision not to take action against the protesters. In most cases, the agency has issued statements saying the protesters simply did not meet the agency's priorities of deporting criminals, recent border crossers and egregious immigration violators.
Still, undocumented immigrants could be taking a chance if getting arrested leads to a criminal record that could prevent them from gaining legal status in the the future.