Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Will Dream Actor get deported? (The Orange County Register)

Will Dream Actor get deported?

Published: June 13, 2011

It's a story we've heard often — about the overachieving, Harvard-bound, student body president with the sterling 4.0 GPA who also happens to be an undocumented immigrant.

Ricardo Muñiz-Moctezuma was never that student. On the contrary, in high school he was the rebellious kid who wasn't headed anywhere good.

"I once didn't care about school, I didn't believe in education," says Ricardo, 22, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico.

When Ricardo was 7 his mother, Maria de Jesus, brought him to United States illegally after she separated from Ricardo's father. They joined Maria's American-born daughter in Anaheim and started a new life.

Ricardo was too young to have any say in this, but he felt the consequences. In high school, he couldn't get a driver's license, or drive a car, or get an after-school job.

Now, he's on the verge of being deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But in an unlikely twist, he's garnered the backing of thousands of strangers from across the country who are rallying behind him in effort to halt the deportation.

Why Ricardo? Far from having a stellar academic record, he says he lost his way in high school, running the streets of Anaheim's south side, where he grew up surrounded by gangs and drug deals that went down in plain sight.

But in his senior year, as an economics teacher talked about stocks and bonds, Ricardo had an epiphany of sorts.

"I thought 'I can really do this... I don't have to go to jail,'" says Ricardo.

Ricardo, who graduated from Katella High in 2006, understood about sacrifice. He'd grown up watching his mom, now a legal resident, scrape together a living by cleaning a Laundromat, selling homemade food, and washing other people's clothes.

What was slower to arrive was that same understanding about school.

"I realized the importance of getting an education, and that someday I was going to be able to be somebody," says Ricardo, who now helps his ailing mother by helping her clean the Laundromat.

But that dream is under threat.

In December, 2007 as he and two friends were leaving an apartment building and getting into his friend's car, a police officer apprehended one of his friends. Angry about what he considered an unprovoked apprehension, Ricardo says he confronted the officer demanding to know what crime his friend committed.

As a result, Ricardo was arrested for obstruction of justice, which landed him in Anaheim jail. That, in turn, led ICE officials to detain him and begin the deportation process for the move he made at age 7.

His family rallied behind Ricardo and got him out on bail.

That's when he began a turnaround that seemed improbable at the time. In the fall of 2008, he entered Fullerton College. Soon, he and others in an ethnic studies class were recruited to participate in a play written by a Fullerton College librarian.

The play, about the historic racial desegregation case that occurred here in Orange County (Mendez et al versus Westminster School District) opened Ricardo's eyes.

"I thought 'Wow, I've been missing out on this information for so long.' Maybe if I would have heard this in third grade, or junior high or high school I wouldn't have taken education for granted," says Ricardo.

Soon after that, Ricardo began speaking at local schools and community centers, sharing his upbringing and urging students to take their studies seriously.

He explains how Fullerton College has given him a new life with new goals: of creating a business that promotes renewable energy and eco-friendly homes in his community.

Yet now that his future is bright, he stands to lose it all if he's deported.

In May, after receiving a letter from ICE saying he had to voluntarily leave the country by June 9, he began alerting his friends of his possible deportation. Those friends — members of the Fullerton Dream Network chapter of the civil rights organization, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles – decided to launch a campaign to urge the federal government to stop Ricardo's deportation.

The chapter, comprised of students who advocate for federal and state legislation that would create a pathway for undocumented students like Ricardo to become legal residents, has so far collected about 5,000 handwritten signatures, and more 11,300 online signatures (via change.org.) in the last two weeks – the most for any one individual in the group's history.

On Friday, his attorney Jessica Dominguez, said she might request the courts to reopen Ricardo's case. For now, Ricardo says that all he can do is hope that the government sees the benefit of allowing him to stay.

"They already invested in us through public education... Wouldn't they want to see a return on their investment," he says.

"I know the person I am," he adds. "I'm far away from the person I used to be."

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