The so-called "Dream 9" walked out to freedom Wednesday in the parking lot of a Tucson Greyhound bus station just as they walked into custody — wearing their high school graduation caps and gowns.
The nine activists were taken into custody two weeks ago after crossing into the United States from Mexico. But their legal troubles have just begun.
They were greeted by friends and other activists.
"Yeah we weren't sure what was really going to happen but it did. It did. We are all very excited and very happy to be home," said Maria Peniche, 22.
She was born in Mexico and moved to Boston when she was 10. Her parents feared being deported so they moved back to Mexico. Three days later the Obama administration announced the deferred action plan which would allow Peniche to work legally in the U.S.
And now, she says this is just the start.
"We are taking a field trip. I want to go back to Boston and say hi to my friends and my family and then come back to Tucson and start helping everybody, everybody else that wants to come back," Peniche said.
She and other activists believe that this group’s successful bid to have their case heard by an immigration judge may encourage hundreds of others already in Mexico to try the same: present themselves at the border and ask for asylum.
But Peniche is worried. It could be years before her case is heard. And a judge may ultimately turn down her appeal for asylum. She could still end up being sent back to Mexico. Only a small percentage of Mexican asylum cases are approved.
"A little. I don't know if they're going to try to twist it on us. I don't know," she said.
Lisbeth Mateo, 29, was also released. She was one of three who self-deported three weeks ago to join the other six who were already in Mexico. She has no regrets, she says.
"I was already at risk. Being undocumented for so long, I was already at risk of being picked up," Mateo said.
The group is in for a long wait. Their lawyer, Margo Cowan, says asylum cases she currently litigates already take five, six, even seven years. But she hopes there will be changes before then.
"So maybe Congress will come to their senses. And maybe there will be some decent changes made to our immigration laws," Cowan said.
That, she says, was the point the group was trying to make through this whole confrontation.