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Illegal immigrants' road trip: riding a 'freedom' bus or flouting the law?

About 30 illegal immigrants set out Aug. 1 for a cross-country, 'no papers, no fear' bus trip. Supporters say the riders are highlighting the need for immigration reform. Detractors say they are thumbing their noses at the law and should be detained.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / August 5, 2012

Leticia Ramirez, in front, and Isela Meraz, both of Phoenix, block the intersection before getting arrested by Phoenix Police July 24, in a protest against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Ms. Meraz is now one of the undocumented immigrants riding a bus to the Democratic National Convention.

Nick Oza/AP

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Phoenix

Inside a small, bright orange building in central Phoenix, rebellion is in the air as young Latinos file in and out of a room, dropping backpacks and suitcases on the floor in preparation for an unusual act of civil disobedience.

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They want the world to know that they are living in the United States without proper legal status, something most people in the same situation strive to keep secret for fear of deportation. About 30 students, mothers, and day laborers this week set out on a bus headed to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., that starts Sept. 3, to cast a spotlight on what they say are flawed immigration policies.

Along the way, the group plans to stop in states that, like Arizona, have adopted – or tried to adopt – strict laws to discourage illegal immigration. On Sunday they are in Austin, Texas, after stops in Colorado and New Mexico.

“To me, it’s about being undocumented without being scared,” says Isela Meraz, a 29-year-old bus rider. “I feel I’ll be representing a lot of people who are afraid of coming out of the shadows.”

The riders plan to be a thorn in the side of the Democratic Party, which they blame along with the Republican Party for the lack of progress on immigration reform. The fact that the Obama administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants is not lost on them.

Still early in their “no papers, no fear” cross-country journey, the bus riders already have stirred controversy. On Aug. 1, they were the subject of a debate in the opinion pages of The New York Times, with some expressing support for the actions of the protesters and others condemning them.

“Anytime illegal immigrants advertise where they are, it seems to me that makes them high priority for detention,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration laws. “ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] needs to pull the bus over, put them in detention, and then remove them.”

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