The detention of a high school student in Arizona by Border Patrol authorities has shaken his classmates in Tucson, prompting a protest this week in front of the campus and a march to a sheriff’s department headquarters.
The student, Thomas Torres-Maytorena, 18, was detained on Thursday during a traffic stop, a statement from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department said on Monday. He did not have a driver’s license or registration or insurance for the vehicle he was in, and he “admitted to the deputy that he was in the country illegally,” the statement said.
A sheriff’s incident report said that Mr. Torres-Maytorena “indicated” he had an “overstayed visa,” and that a deputy then contacted Border Patrol. A Customs and Border Protection official confirmed on Tuesday that Mr. Torres-Maytorena was in its custody, and referred to him as a Mexican citizen who is facing immigration charges.
The detention of Mr. Torres-Maytorena, a senior at Desert View High School, and the protest reflected a wider unease among students in schools along the country’s southern border. Schools have been considered sanctuaries for immigrant students, but immigrant groups point out that it has not stopped federal agents from picking up parents as they drop off their children, or prevented school officials from helping to build cases for Immigration and Customs Enforcement cases.
On Monday, as news of Mr. Torres-Maytorena’s detention spread, more than 100 of his classmates gathered in front of the school and then marched several miles to the sheriff’s department headquarters, holding signs calling for justice and for his release. Some students said he should be released and allowed to return to classes for the remaining weeks before graduation on May 22.
“We feel that any of us could be taken,” Daffne Anselmo, a friend of Mr. Torres-Maytorena’s, told reporters at the protest, according to footage by CBS News. He said they could be detained “just because of a race that we are.”
Protesters were “peaceful” and accompanied by school administrators, according to the sheriff’s department statement. Victor Mercado, a spokesman for the Sunnyside Independent School District, said the protest by about 120 students lasted for about four hours.
The district is predominantly made up of Hispanic students, he said. “Issues of immigration are pretty sensitive,” Mr. Mercado said. “If they do not have a family member who is in that situation, they know of somebody somewhere whose documentation might have a different status. It is a sensitive issue.”
Mr. Mercado said that Mr. Torres-Maytorena’s hearing for the traffic citation was scheduled for May 22 in Pima County Justice Court, but that he did not know when there might be a hearing regarding immigration charges. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Torres-Maytorena had a lawyer.
The protest also highlighted tension with the roles played by local law enforcement in the work of federal immigration authorities.
The statement from Sheriff Mark D. Napier said that the department wanted to prevent what was described as possible “misinformation” about the traffic stop before a vote on Tuesday of the Pima County Board of Supervisors on whether to approve federal funds to support coordination between border agents and local law enforcement. Last year, community outrage over new federal border policies and family separations prompted the board to reject those funds, The Arizona Daily Star reported.
According to the sheriff’s incident report, a deputy was conducting a traffic stop for driving under the influence just before 10 p.m. on Thursday in Tucson. Mr. Torres-Maytorena was driving, and two other Hispanic men were inside the vehicle, the report said. Mr. Torres-Maytorena was given civil citations for having expired plates and for not having a driver’s license, registration or insurance papers, it said.
The vehicle was registered to Lorena Rodriguez, whom Mr. Torres-Maytorena described in the report as his stepmother. Relatives were allowed to speak with him after he was placed, without handcuffs, in the back of a patrol vehicle, the statement said. Mr. Torres-Maytorena passed a sobriety test, it said.
The report said Mr. Torres-Maytorena “indicated” he was an “undocumented illegal immigrant” with an “overstayed visa.” He had a student identification card, the report said.
According to an online fund-raising campaign that was started in Ms. Rodriguez’s name to help pay for his legal fees, Mr. Torres-Maytorena moved to the United States from Mexico when he was young, along with his mother and two younger sisters.
On the campaign website, Ms. Rodriguez described Mr. Torres-Maytorena as a hardworking student and sportsman who has worked in restaurants; he has also done side jobs like yard work.
“People like Thomas are needed in this country,” she wrote. “He’s a hardworking young man and willing to better his future.”