Nov. 26 2008 12:00 AM

When U.S. customs officials at the Miami International Airport detained Teresa Pierce earlier this year after she returned from a trip to Mexico, she figured she would be released before her connecting flight back to Detroit departed.

“I said, ‘I got four hours until my next flight,’” recalls Pierce, a resident of Carson City, which is north of St. Johns. She ended up being held in a cell for five hours. When customs officials finally came to get her, they asked her why she had been in Mexico. But, when Pierce asked the officials why they were detaining her, they refused to answer.

“I said, ‘what did I do wrong?’” she said. “They said, ‘we don’t have to tell you that information.’ They way they treated us, it was like we were second-class citizens.”

The reason Pierce had traveled to Mexico — and the reason she may have been detained — was to visit her cousin’s ex-husband, who had been deported.

Her cousin, Pierce said, had illegally brought her ex-husband to the United States, where they were married and had a daughter and then after 10 years filed for divorce.

Her cousin, Pierce said, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on him. Officers from the agency came to Pierce’s home (“with guns pointed at my head”) looking for him prior to his deportation two years ago. Pierce has since fought for him, though, saying that he was a responsible, hard working father.

“I watched this man be the best husband and father I’ve ever seen,” Pierce said. “This little girl is going to be ruined for life.” She has been trying to set up communication between her ex-husband and his daughter and help him find a way to get back into the United States so he can be with his daughter.

Pierce’s dealing with U.S. immigration practices led her to find and join the group No Human Is Illegal, which was created last month after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials raided businesses and homes in Lansing and East Lansing. The raids led to the arrest of 64 allegedly illegal immigrants, some of whom were arrested at the El Azteco restaurant in East Lansing on a Sunday morning as workers prepared to open the eatery.

Last Thursday night, Pierce was selling raffle tickets for
the new group at the East Lansing Public Library, where it held a
screening of the documentary, “Crossing Arizona.”

The movie
looks at two sides of the immigration issue: efforts by citizens and
government officials to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the U.S./
Mexico border, and by activists to care for the immigrants, many of
whom have walk for miles across open desert with little food or water.

Anguiano, a former Lansing Fire Department captain who has been working
within the local immigrant community for several years, spoke at the
film screening. Anguiano relayed a story from the October ICE raids
when a young boy had seen his father arrested as the two were playing
in the backyard of their home.

“Everybody’s got rights, whether you’re
illegal or not,” Anguiano said during an intermission from the film. At
least 20 people were at Thursday’s event.

Anguiano estimated
that No Human Is Illegal has between 25 and 50 members, but the number
of people at the group’s meetings has varied. The group is scheduled to
meet again at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at Cristo Rey Church, 201 W. Miller Road,

Although Pierce thinks that what was done to her
cousin’s ex-husband was wrong — she says that her cousin made false
charges of domestic violence against him in order to expedite the
deportation — her stance on what to do about illegal immigrants is

She feels that U.S. immigration policy is
“wishy-washy” — that it targets certain individuals but seems to allow
others to go free. But Pierce is committed to fairness, which is why
she drives to Lansing from her Carson City home to help out at No Human
Is Illegal events.

“I think it ruins families,” Pierce said of her dealings with immigration laws.