Immigrant Graduates From Arizona High School, Future Unclear

BY ANITA SNOW, PHOENIX (AP) — A teenager who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child has graduated from high school in Arizona just weeks after federal officials detained him and his classmates protested for his release.

Thomas Torres, dressed in a burgundy cap and gown, wore a broad smile as a big cheer went up at the Wednesday night graduation ceremony at Desert View High School in southern Tucson, about 60 miles (close to 100 kilometers) from the U.S.-Mexico border.

The 18-year-old Torres was among 418 students who graduated with fireworks and live mariachi music. More than 120 of the young people marched earlier this month to protest their classmate’s detention.

“This really has been an issue that has hit home,” said Victor Mercado, a spokesman for the Sunnyside Unified School District. “There are a lot of students in our schools with ties to the border.” The school’s student body is 84% Hispanic.

Torres was brought to the United States as a young boy, and he went to live with the family of his best friend after his own relatives returned to Mexico.

Friends have said Torres played on the school’s football team and regularly worked several jobs, including busing tables at a restaurant.

Pima County Sheriff’s deputies earlier this month contacted the Border Patrol after Torres acknowledged during a traffic stop that he was in the U.S. illegally. He was transferred to Immigration Control and Enforcement before eventually being released pending a final decision.

Torres’ future in the U.S. remained uncertain Thursday.

ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said earlier this month that proceedings to remove Torres from the U.S. had begun and a judge needed to rule on the case. She said Thursday that proceedings remained on track, but she could not provide more information.

Neither Torres nor members of the family he has been living with in Tucson could be immediately located for comment.

Mercado noted that students without permission to be in the United States are allowed to attend public school under a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Torres’ detention, coming shortly before a major rite of passage in the only country he remembers, was a stark example of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“People like Thomas are needed in this country,” Lorena Rodriguez, a family friend, wrote earlier this month on a GoFundMe page to raise money for Torres’ legal costs. “He’s a hardworking young man willing to better his future.”

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(In this April 13, 2019, photo provided by Lorena Rodriguez, Thomas Torres is shown wearing a suit for the prom at Desert View High School in Tucson, Ariz. Torres, an immigrant student who faces deportation proceedings, has graduated from high school, Wednesday, May 22, several weeks after his classmates held protested his detention. The former high school football player’s future in the U.S. remains uncertain. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month said Torres had been placed into deportation proceedings, but it was unknown when a decision would be made. (Lorena Rodriguez via AP)