More than 120 students in Tucson, Arizona, walked out of class on Monday to protest their classmate’s detainment by U.S. Customs and Border Protection just weeks ahead of his graduation.
Pima County Sheriff’s deputies pulled over Thomas Torres Maytorena, an 18-year-old senior at Desert View High School, on Thursday night after determining the vehicle he was driving had an expired registration and a mandatory insurance suspension.
Deputies asked Torres Maytorena for identification, but he was unable to produce a driver’s license, according to a sheriff’s office statement. After the teen said he was an undocumented immigrant, the deputies contacted Border Patrol, which took him into custody for an overstayed visa.
Torres Maytorena’s supporters say the sheriff’s department’s collaboration with immigration authorities is unethical and dangerous. They’re calling on law enforcement to release the student, who has been in the U.S. since he was a toddler and was set to graduate on May 22.
Dozens of students marched roughly four miles from the high school Monday morning to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, where they chanted “Free Thomas Now!” and held up banners with the phrase “Without Justice, There Is No Peace” written on them.
Lorena Rodriguez, who created a GoFundMe campaign to help Torres Maytorena cover his legal expenses, told The Associated Press that the teen had been living with her family in Tucson for several years.
“People like Thomas are needed in this country,” Rodriguez wrote on the fundraising page. “He’s a hardworking young man willing to better his future.”
Torres Maytorena, a varsity football player for Desert View, is being detained at a federal holding facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, reported the AP. He is scheduled to appear in immigration court on May 22 ― the day he was supposed to don a cap and gown and receive his diploma alongside his classmates.
“This does not need to happen,” Daffne Anselmo, a Desert View student who attended Monday’s protest, told The Arizona Republic. “He should be in school right now. ... He should be learning and finishing his couple of days off, we just want him to graduate.”
The sheriff’s department defended deputies’ decision to alert Border Patrol, stating in a release Monday that those actions “are what the Sheriff would expect of any deputy under similar circumstances.”
The Pima County Board of Supervisors was set to vote Tuesday on Operation Stonegarden, a program that allocates federal funding to border counties in exchange for border security.
Immigrant rights activists say these grants facilitate collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Border Patrol, which often results in routine traffic stops leading to immigration detentions.
The county accepted the federal funding for several years, but rejected the nearly $2 million last year, reported local ABC affiliate KGUN. The sheriff’s department reapplied for the funding this year.