Illegal immigrant hailed as a hero

An Albuquerque, N.M., man who saved a 6-year-old girl from kidnapping earlier this week has admitted he is an illegal immigrant. But the city went ahead with its plans to declare Friday Antonio Diaz Chacon Day, in honor of the man, and Mayor Richard Berry presented Diaz Chacon with a plaque honoring him for heroism at an afternoon ceremony.

"Today's proclamation for Mr. Diaz Chacon is to celebrate the heroic actions that he demonstrated when he saved the life of a 6-year-old girl in danger," the mayor's spokesman, Chris Ramirez, said in a statement. "Mayor Berry is proud of Mr. Diaz Chacon's actions and joins the community in honoring his heroism."

On Monday, 23-year-old Diaz Chacon saw a green van pull up in front of a playground near his home and watched as a man forced the 6-year-old girl into the van. He immediately jumped into his own car and chased the vehicle, while calling 911, KRQE TV reports. The kidnapper, Phillip Garcia, 29, attempted to lose Diaz Chacon, but crashed into a light pole instead. Garcia then fled, but was apprehended by police officers who showed up on the scene seconds later.

In an interview with the Spanish-language Univision TV network this week, Diaz Chacon, who’s married to an American and has two daughters, revealed he was a Mexican citizen who had been living in the United States illegally for the past four years, the Associated Press reports.

"I came to work, to work hard," he told Univision. "The only problem is I entered the country illegally and now we can't afford a lawyer to file the immigration papers."

Immigration reform advocates have seized upon Diaz Chacon as an example of the kind of undocumented worker whose rights should be expanded. Christina Parker, a spokeswoman for Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, told the AP: "As exceptional as his story is, it points to the fact that most undocumented immigrants living in the United States are not criminals. He's more than not a criminal now. He's a hero."

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced it would halt the deportations of illegal immigrants such as Diaz Chacon to focus on expelling illegal immigrants with criminal records.

(More from GlobalPost: Homeland Security halts deportations of some illegal immigrants)

But New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez blasted the suggestion that Diaz Chacon’s story make her reconsider her ongoing attempts to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license, the AP reports.

"The Governor believes foreign nationals here legally, whether through work pemits or visas, should be able to receive driver's licenses, but is opposed to giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," Martinez's office said in a statement. "The radical special interest groups shamefully exploiting this man, who may or may not be here illegally, to further their cause cannot ignore the litany of well-documented cases of this policy that put the public at risk.”