Local News

Man on hunger strike for illegal immigrants

Posted March 12, 2012 7:36 a.m. EDT
Updated March 12, 2012 7:54 p.m. EDT

— A Winston-Salem man on a hunger strike at the Wake County jail and facing deportation says that he wants to bring attention to U.S. immigration laws and how they are affecting immigrants who have been raised in America yet cannot obtain citizenship as adults.

"I had no control over whether or not I wanted to come to this country, but I'm here, and I'm a contributing member of society," 24-year-old Uriel Alberto, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, said Monday.

Alberto began fasting 10 days ago – two days after he and two other people with the advocacy groups El Cambio and N.C. Dream Team – were charged Feb. 29 with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after they interrupted a legislative committee meeting on immigration laws.

"The last two days have been extremely difficult to stay with it mentally," he said. "I'm getting through it."

Already having lost 20 pounds, he plans to fast another 10 days in an effort to empower others to speak out for the way, he says, illegal immigrants have to live under the radar and often fear being deported.

"We can't live in the shadows, because if we do, then the same things that have happened (legislation regarding illegal immigrants) in Alabama and in Arizona are going to happen here," Alberto said.

"(Lawmakers) are going to make it impossible for immigrants – whether illegal or legal – to live in this state," he continued. "We can't sit back and let these men who aren't informed on the issues make decisions based on their personal agendas without us having a say-so."

Alberto says he was raised in the U.S. since he was 7 years old. He went to school and says he studied at college until he could no longer afford it. He works full-time and has a 2-year-old son, Julian.

"A lot of us don't know anything else. I consider myself a Southern gentleman. It's a shame that I'm going to be sent back to a country I know nothing about – that I haven't lived in in 18 years," he said. "This is all I know. This is my life. I live by the principles of this land."

The other two protesters, Estephania Mijangos-Lopez, 20, of Sanford, and Cynthia Martinez, 21, of Broadway, were released last week, partially because they had clean records.

Alberto has several traffic violations, although his attorney, Beckie Moriello, says he's resolved most of them. North Carolina Department of Correction records show he also has four convictions for driving with a revoked license.

"I knew what I was up against, and I knew the consequences of my actions," he said. "If we could go back in time and I had the choice of doing it again, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

Moriello says she plans to file a request Tuesday in immigration court in Charlotte to get him out of jail on bond. A court hearing will likely happen Thursday.

"Hopefully, the judge on Thursday will see that my merit and my accomplishments will outweigh any petty traffic tickets that I accumulated over the course of many years," Alberto said.

Moriello says his only option to stay in the country is something called "cancellation of removal." To comply, a judge has to find the person has been in country for 10 years, is of good moral character, and has a child that would suffer if he is deported. She says these cases are very difficult to win.

"I'm a victim of this immigration issue, and (my son's) gradually becoming a victim of this immigration issue," Alberto said. "More than anything, I'm standing up for us -- for him, for me."