Reporting from Durham, N.C. — Two weeks ago, Uriel Alberto interrupted a state legislative hearing in North Carolina and declared himself an undocumented immigrant.
"I am undocumented and I am unafraid," Alberto, 24, told a North Carolina House of Representatives immigration committee in Raleigh. "I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by this committee and choose to empower my community."
Alberto's bold statement got him arrested for disorderly conduct -- and landed him in jail under threat of federal deportation.
Now, thanks to an online petition campaign, Alberto is a rallying point for supporters of the Dream Act, which would give permanent resident status to undocumented students brought illegally to the U.S. by their parents. Supporters have launched a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag (#FreeUriel) and online petitions; they've also staged rallies outside the jail, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported Monday.
"He took a brave stand for immigration rights, and now he may get deported for it," said a posting on the Facebook page. Alberto's online supporters are urging others to call or write federal immigration authorities to lobby against deportation.
Alberto, a native of Mexico brought to the U.S. by his parents at age 7, waged a 10-day hunger strike in the Wake County Jail until Monday. In a jailhouse interview, he told WGHP-TV of Greensboro, N.C., that he stopped the hunger strike because his mother was concerned about his health.
A federal immigration hearing in Alberto's case is scheduled for Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed an immigration hold on Alberto after his Feb. 29 arrest.
Alberto’s hearing comes several months after President Obama announced last summer that immigration authorities would place greater emphasis on deporting immigrants with serious criminal records. Alberto has past convictions for speeding, driving while impaired and driving with a revoked license.
"This is the land of second opportunities," Alberto told WGHP. "I'm grateful for being in this country. I love this country. This is my country. I consider myself a Southern boy."
Alberto and two other undocumented immigrants belonging to an advocacy group called NC DREAM Team were arrested in connection with disrupting a meeting of the North Carolina House's Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration. Alberto, the only one of the three with a police record, was the only one hit with an immigration hold.
Among the issues that a federal immigration judge might consider in the case are whether Alberto has been in the U.S. for at least 10 years, has good moral character and has a child who is a U.S. citizen who needs care, the News and Observer reported. Alberto has a 2-year-old son who lives with the boy's mother in Florida, according to the Independent Weekly newspaper.
Ron Woodard, a member of the group NC Listen, which opposes illegal immigration, told WGHP that Alberto should be deported and then attempt to reenter the U.S. legally instead of "cutting the line."
"If he isn’t deported for this, he's making a mockery of our rule of law,"’ said Woodard, who attended the hearing at which Alberto was arrested. "He's basically standing up there, saying, 'I've broken the law. There’s nothing you can do about.'"