NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of Nashville students is protesting the deportation proceedings for a recent high school graduate who was brought here from Mexico at age 11.
Eighteen-year-old Mercedes Gonzalez, speaking to reporters at a Thursday rally, said she was stopped for speeding on May 15, a week before her high school graduation. When she couldn't produce identification, she was taken to jail where she was flagged for possible deportation.
"It was sad the way I felt like a criminal when the cop put me in handcuffs just for not having an ID," she said.
At the rally, a group of students and immigrant rights activists went to the Davidson County Sheriff's Office to protest the county's participation in a federal program that screens anyone who is arrested for immigration status.
A deputy who declined to identify himself stood outside the door and would not allow the students inside the building. Instead, Gonzalez left her red mortarboard cap on the sidewalk in front of the office.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Karla Weikal said in an email about the protest that it is up to the federal government to decide whom to deport.
Gonzalez said she recently graduated from Overton High School and would like to go to Western Kentucky University and study to be a nurse or a doctor. But she is afraid she will be deported back to Mexico.
"I don't have any family members there," she said. "My whole family's here. I'd have no future, I guess. And it would be really sad to be alone, without my family."
Gonzalez is one of a group of illegal immigrants who could benefit from the so-called DREAM Act — a proposed federal law that would allow illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to earn legal status, either by going to college or serving in the military.
The bill has been introduced several times in Congress but has yet to make it through.
"I know Obama has the power to stop the deportations," she said, mentioning the DREAM Act and the federal 287(g) program that the sheriff's office participates in.
In jail she said an officer told her she would never see her family again and never graduate from high school. But, likely due to community pressure, she was released on her own recognizance after three days.
"When I was released, they didn't let me make a phone call, so I had to walk home. It took me almost two hours. I was crying," she said.
Her attorney, Adrienne Schlichtemier, of the nonprofit Justice for our Neighbors, said she plans to ask the Department of Homeland Security to defer action on Gonzalez's case, although she said DHS does not grant deferred action often.
Gonzalez said she wants to show that she and others like her can contribute to make their community better.
"We have dreams," she said. "We can do really good things for the community."