When Marco Saavedra was arrested for the first time, during a September 2011 protest against U.S. immigration policy in Charlotte, North Carolina, he thought he was prepared. It was what he’d come to do. Still, he was taking a risk. Saavedra is undocumented, and he was aware that the Charlotte police had an agreement with the federal government, under what’s known as the 287(g) program, that gave them the power to apprehend illegal immigrants and turn them over for deportation. Saavedra, who was then 21, had known dozens of undocumented activists who’d been arrested without being deported. But as he was sitting, handcuffed, in a gray-brick holding cell at the county jail, it was hard to suppress the fear. He’d felt it most of his life, since his parents brought him from rural Mexico to New York City when he was three; growing up, he’d done all he could to make sure that even his closest friends didn’t know his status.
“The euphoria of the protest, the chanting in the street, was gone,” he says. “It was lonely and desolate. They took us out one by one to process us. And one of the others came back with paperwork indicating they planned to send him to an immigration detention center in Georgia. I panicked for a moment.”