Police: 36 illegal immigrants found in NW Valley house
by Philip Haldiman on Nov. 05, 2011
Thirty-six people suspected of being in the country illegally were found in a northwest Valley home on Saturday, according to Phoenix police.
Officials received an anonymous tip that the residence, in the 2100 block of West Shaw Butte, could be being used as a drop house.
The group is in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
No further information was available.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Police: 36 illegal immigrants found in NW Valley house
Benita Veliz, DREAM Act Poster Child, Spared Deportation By Immigration Officials
First Posted: 11/6/11 08:28 AM ET Updated: 11/6/11 11:09 AM ET
Benita Veliz, a poster child for the DREAM Act, was spared deportation earlier this week under deportation guidelines established by the Morton Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement this past June.
After her parents brought her to Texas from Mexico at the age eight, Veliz graduated from high school two years early as a National Merit Scholar and as her class valedictorian. She then graduated from St. Mary's University, which she attended on a full academic merit scholarship. But in 2009, she said a small driving error threatened her ability to stay in the only country she knows.
Veliz neglected to make a complete stop at a stop sign, prompting a police officer to pull her over. Deportation proceedings were then initiated when it was discovered she was undocumented.
In a video testimony on YouTube filmed in 2009, Veliz says that she has "absolutely no family in Mexico" and knows "absolutely no one" in her native country. Veliz says in the video that critics should take into account how young she was when her parents brought her to the U.S.
"A lot of people will take the argument, illegal is illegal is illegal and so if you're here illegally you did something wrong and you need to go back where you came from," she said in the video. "But put yourself in the shoes of an eight-year-old child, who has absolutely no concept of what legal is or illegal is ... who could barely write in cursive, much less understand the complexities of the immigration system."
Luckily for Veliz, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton established new guidelines earlier this year that prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are dangerous criminals over that of individuals with no criminal record. Thanks to those guidelines, immigration authorities ended deportation proceedings against Veliz on Wednesday. Nancy Shivers, Veliz's lawyer, said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News that she believes Veliz was spared because she's eligible for the DREAM Act.
However, Veliz's trouble are still "far from over," according to the San Antonio Express-News, because in order to obtain a work permit, she would have to leave the United States and face a 10-year ban before she could return.
While cases like Veliz's are not yet commonplace, she is not the first to avoid deportation thanks to the Morton memo. Luis Enrique Hernandez and Pedro Morales, two students from Georgia who were brought to the U.S. at a young age, both successfully filed petitions to drop their cases based on the memo's guidelines.
Despite the challenges she still faces, Veliz says she is happy to be able to stay in the country she calls home.
"When this started three years ago, I thought that was it. I'd lost hope," Veliz said to the San Antonio Express-News. "I'm definitely happy to still be here."
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Frederick murder case sparks debate about illegal immigration
By Brad Bell
November 4, 2011 - 05:06 pm
The arrest of a suspect in the murder of a Frederick Burger King manager has ignited a debate in Frederick County about illegal immigration.
The suspect arrested by police, 21-year-old Jose Reyes Mejia-Varela, is an illegal immigrant who had already been deported once before.
Federal criminal charges are pending against Mejia-Varela for illegally re-entering the country after having been deported as an aggravated felon, police say. He has also been charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery, first and second-degree assault and theft.
County Commissioner Blaine Young is proposing a package of rules to drive illegal immigrants out of Frederick County.
“What happened was this hit kind of close to home. So we kind of fast-tracked some of those initiatives we want to look at,” Young said.
He wants to strengthen an existing English-language ordinance, require businesses to use a government data base to verify employees’ status, prohibit the rental of homes and apartments to illegal immigrants and prohibit day-labor gathering sites.
“We should not be offering assistance to people that aren't here legally,” Young said.
Some Frederick residents share Young’s sentiment, but others argue the rules go too far.
“Bottom line, if you're an illegal immigrant, you're here illegally. You got to enforce the law,” said John Hardin.
“There’s absolutely a middle ground for finding a way to accept all who come to this country and adhere to our laws,” counters Chris Garcia.
Young predicts the proposals will become law.
“People have said Frederick is the (…) unfriendliest county in the state of Maryland when it comes to illegal aliens. We wear that as a badge of honor,” he said.
US Citizen Caught With Drugs Avoids Prison by Posing as Illegal Immigrant
Scenario 'not unusual,' says immigration official
By Ray Downs | Christian Post Reporter
Fri, Nov. 04 2011 11:21 PM EDT
An American citizen who thought deportation would be preferable to incarceration told police that he was an illegal immigrant in order to be sent to Mexico instead of prison – and it worked.
Jaime Alvarado, 27, from Salt Lake City, was arrested in Feb. 2010 for possession of "cocaine and heroin with an intent to distribute," reported ABC News, and told police that he was Saul Quiroz, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
After pleading guilty, police handed him over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and instead of the 15-year sentence he would have been given had he been honest about his identity, Alvarado, aka Saul Quiroz, was given a one-way ticket to Mexico.
According to the Daily Mail, Alvarado "exploited" the fact that officials are allegedly more willing to send foreign offenders back to their country instead of trying to fit them into already overcrowded prisons.
Eventually, Alvarado came back to the U.S. under his real name using his American passport. Everything seemed fine until he was re-arrested in April of this year and was about to be sent to the ICE again before he confessed his true, American identity.
Alvarado was then released from prison in June, with everything seeming to be over. However, authorities eventually figured out the ruse and on Oct. 31, issued a warrant for the arrest of the man previously known to Utah authorities as "Saul Quiroz."
This time, however, Alvarado is pleading instead of fleeing in order to avoid hard time.
"I know I made a poor choice by lying to you guys a year ago. I was afraid to go to prison," he wrote in a letter to the judge presiding over his case.
"I have a good job right now, a lot of little girls waiting for me and a family that will support me," he added. "It's my first offense and my last. I want to spend the rest of my life with my kids."
In a separate letter from Alvarado's fiance, Anelia Carballo, said her future husband has made "a 360-degree turnaround" and was a good father to their daughter together as well as her other four girls, ABC News reported.
According to The Associated Press, ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said it is not rare for American citizens to claim being an illegal immigrant and face deportation in order to avoid going to prison.
Vermont enforce new immigration policy
Posted: Nov 05, 2011 5:36 AM EDT
BURLINGTON, VT (WPTZ/CNN) - Vermont's governor has released a new immigration policy for state police, which is being dubbed the "look the other way" policy.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says state troopers should not try to arrest people just for being in the U.S. illegally.
Back in September, a state trooper made a routine traffic stop and asked one of the passengers his immigration status. He suspected that person of being an illegal immigrant and called Customs and Borders Patrol, who arrested the man.
The arrest sparked protests from the migrant worker community, who says the trooper should never have asked about the man's immigration status.
The governor's office says the trooper did nothing wrong, but Gov. Shumlin said the state's policy was in a gray area that needed clearing up.
"Vermont farmers can't survive without workers from outside America," Shumlin said. "That's just the way it is. We've got to keep our dairy farms strong, so we've always had a policy in Vermont where we kind of "look the other way" as much as we can.
The governor says that immigration is to be enforced by federal agents. State police can choose to help by detaining people they suspect of being illegal immigrants.
"The new policy states that Vermont State Police troopers should not try to identify people whose only suspected violation is that they are present in the United States without proper documentation, but also makes it clear that officers should continue to investigate suspected criminal activity," Shumlin said in a released statement.
In the new policy, Shumlin also recommends federal authorities be called in to help with Canadian border cases.
Macon Police: Alcohol Sweep Turns Up Illegal Immigrant
Written by Katelyn Heck
1:53 PM, Nov 5, 2011
The Macon Police Department Narcotics Unit issued several citations and made one arrest after conducting alcohol compliance tests Thursday evening.
Jami Gaudet with the police department says Jograj Singh was arrested for sale of alcohol without a license.
Gaudet says police called Immigration Enforcement after Singh gave them a South Texas correction identification that appeared to be fraudulent. Immigration Enforcement revealed Singh is on bond in New York for illegally entering the United States.
According to Gaudet, six people were cited for the sale of alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Police cited Saeb Saidi, Victor Elias, Syed Ahmed, Kalpesh Patel, Matthew Black, and Lakeshia Reeves.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Thousands of Kids Taken From Parents In U.S. Deportation System
by Seth Freed Wessler
Wednesday, November 2 2011, 8:00 AM EST
Clara’s eldest kid was 6 years old and her youngest just a year old when it happened. Josefina’s baby was 9 months. All three children were ripped from their mothers and sent to live in foster homes with strangers. Clara and Josefina, sisters in their early 30s who lived together in a small northern New Mexico town, had done nothing to harm their children or to elicit the attention of the child welfare department. Yet one morning last year, their family was shattered when federal immigration authorities detained both sisters. Clara and Josefina were deported four months later. For a year, they had no contact with their children.
The sun was rising on a late summer morning in Farmington. Clara (all parents’ names in this story have been changed) was asleep inside the trailer that she shared with the children and Josefina, who was finishing a night shift at the local restaurant where both sisters worked. Clara says she was jolted awake by the sound of banging and yelling. A group of uniformed officers, some marked with ICE, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and others DEA, for Drug Enforcement Administration, burst through the door.
The agents put Clara in handcuffs, while two of the officers began walking and carrying the children out of the trailer. Clara pleaded with them, asking what they would do with her children. “We’re taking them where we take all the kids,” Clara remembers one of the agents saying. She begged them to let her call a friend who could come pick up the children. The agents refused.
When Josefina arrived home from work several hours later, ICE officers were waiting. The sisters were locked up in the San Juan County jail, where they stayed for several weeks until ICE transported them to an immigration detention center in Albuquerque, three hours to the south. Their children remained in foster care.
This family is one among thousands who’ve been through the same ordeal. In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total, based on extensive surveys of child welfare case workers and attorneys and analysis of national immigration and child welfare trends. Many of the kids may never see their parents again.
These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.
While anecdotal reports have circulated about children lingering in foster care because of a parent’s detention or deportation, our investigation provides the first evidence that the problem occurs on a large scale. If these cases continue mounting at the same pace over the next five years, 15,000 children of detained and deported mothers and fathers will likely be separated from their parents and languish in U.S. foster homes.
Citizen Kids Caught in the Deportation Dragnet
Josefina and Clara’s children are among the hidden victims of an expanding immigration detention and deportation system that now expels nearly 400,000 people each year.
According to Clara and Josefina, the ICE and DEA agents came to their home looking for drugs, but found none. Clara believes a neighbor called in the false report to ICE. A criminal background check confirms that charges against the sisters were dropped and that neither had ever been convicted of any crime. ICE nonetheless detained them because of their undocumented immigration status, moving them from the county jail to the immigration detention center where they were held for three months. They were deported to Mexico in December 2010.
According to over 100 child welfare caseworkers and attorneys we interviewed around the country, as rates of deportations increase, so do the numbers of children from immigrant families in foster care. Indeed, federal data released to the Applied Research Center through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that almost one in four people deported in the last year was the mother or father of a United States citizen. (Next week, Colorlines.com will publish a follow-up story further detailing and explaining this startling data.)
Roberta is one such parent. Almost a year ago, she was arrested on a drunken driving charge that would likely have triggered only a short interruption in her child custody, if she were a citizen. Instead, it threatens to result in the termination of the 35-year-old’s parental rights, because she is an undocumented immigrant and was deported after being charged. Her five young children are now in two different foster homes in Phoenix. Separated from them by the U.S.-Mexico border, Roberta cannot make the journey back to fight for her kids.
ICE detained Roberta after the Phoenix police stopped her one evening as she drove three of her children home from a family party, where Roberta acknowledges she had one beer too many. Police administered a breathalyzer and charged her with driving under the influence and with child endangerment.
“I know I’ve made a mistake, but I’ve never before had a problem and I’ve paid,” Roberta told me in late January 2011, while still at the Eloy Detention Center, a 1,600-bed facility run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America. A criminal background check confirms that this was Roberta’s first conviction in her 15 years living in the United States.
Phoenix is one of almost 70 jurisdictions around the country where local police have signed agreements with the federal government to act as immigration agents. The “287(g)” agreement, as the program is called, turns a simple traffic stop into a path to deportation by deputizing local cops as immigration enforcement agents.
Our research found that children in areas where local cops aggressively engage in immigration enforcement are more likely to be separated from their parents and face barriers to reunification. In the counties we surveyed where local police have signed 287(g) agreements with ICE, children in foster care were 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported parent than in other counties. That disparity remained statistically significant when controlling for the size of the foreign-born population.
In Roberta’s case, as the police officer arrested her, he called the county Child Protective Services, which came quickly to the side of the road and took the children away. The agency placed them in what were supposed to be temporary foster homes, until Roberta could get out of jail.
But she was not released—not until she was deported, without her children.
A Morally Corrupted System
Local immigration enforcement is metastasizing through initiatives like the 287(g) agreements and, most significantly, through a controversial program called Secure Communities, which allows ICE access to data on every person booked into a county jail. As the federal government shifts its deportation tactics away from high-profile workplace raids and toward enforcement that’s silently tied to the day-to-day functions of local police departments, a growing number of long-time residents with families and deep ties to the U.S. are deported. The program is turning jurisdictions around the country into deportation hotspots. We have identified at least 22 states where children in foster care face barriers to reunifying with their detained or deported mothers and fathers.
Whatever the state of the debate, or rancor, over who should and should not be allowed to live in the U.S., the moral and bureaucratic fallout of deporting 400,000 people a year are accumulating to toxic levels. Child welfare caseworkers say that in the face of an opaque detention system, they are helpless to reunify families. And although federal law requires child welfare departments to make diligent efforts toward family reunification, when parents are detained that’s basically impossible.
In Los Angeles, where according to our research, the mother or father of approximately one in every 16 children in foster care has been detained or deported, a caseworker for the country described the frustration. “Ultimately, as social workers our role is to reunify families. I’m not saying that ICE is right or wrong; what I’m saying is, let us do our job, let us reunify families.”
An immigration enforcement system that operates anything like the one we have will run roughshod over most everything.
Some of the most unsettling cases that our research has uncovered involve children who entered foster care when local police arrested non-citizen mothers after they or neighbors called 911 to report domestic violence.
Hilaria, of Phoenix, was arrested because she tried to defend herself against her abusive husband. One day in October 2010, he began berating her and threatening her. In minutes, the words escalated into hitting and choking. Hilaria fought back, freeing herself from the man and running to the kitchen, where she says she picked up a screwdriver and threw it at him, drawing blood.
A neighbor heard screaming and called the police. When the cops arrived, Hilaria’s husband told them that she attacked him and, as is too often the case in domestic violence reports, the officers arrested Hilaria for assault. Because their children were home at the time, the police called Child Protective Services. But when the officers and Hilaria’s abuser told the CPS worker that Hilaria had been the assailant, the caseworker left the children with him. Two weeks later, the child welfare department returned to check on the children. The caseworker now suspected that Hilaria’s husband was using drugs and removed the children from him, placing them in foster care.
Two months later, Hilaria sat on a plastic chair in a small detention center visitation room, speaking through tears. “I’ve had domestic violence before, but I took it for my kids,” she said. “Now they’ve robbed me. I did what I did to defend myself and my kids.”
Hilaria is now applying for a reprieve from deportation, which is available to some victims of domestic violence. But because of the charge of assault against her, it’s not clear the government will grant her a visa—she violates a zero-tolerance policy against “criminal” immigrants. The Obama administration recently announced that it would review the deportation cases of all 300,000 people slated for removal. The policy change, which is designed to stop the deportations of people brought to the U.S. as children and other target populations, does not appear to have helped even those like Hilaria. One year after her arrest, Hilaria is still detained. Her children are still in foster care.
The Abyss of Detention
Four months after Roberta lost her children, she also sat in detention center visitation room, sifting through crinkled papers in a bulging folder to find a photo of two of her children. “It has been four months since I’ve talked to my kids,” she said, looking at the photo of her then 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. The children stood shoulder to shoulder, smiling at the camera in front of a graffiti-scrawled wall near the family’s Phoenix apartment. The boy wore camouflage pants and the girl a pink shirt.
“I would rather die than lose my kids,” Roberta said, tears running down her round face.
“They treat us like animals here,” she complained of the barbed-wire ridged jail in Arizona’s basin cotton fields. According to Roberta, women inmates were given unwashed underwear and detainees were fed stale bread and dirty vegetables for their two meals a day. “But the worst,” said Roberta, echoing the sentiments of other detained parents, “is that I can’t see my kids.”
Three weeks after ICE detained Roberta, the juvenile court held a hearing about her family. Roberta, however, did not know about it. Neither her court appointed attorney nor the child welfare caseworkers or attorneys contacted her.
All of the parents with children in Child Protective Services custody whom we interviewed inside six detention centers said that they missed at least one of their juvenile court hearings. From detention, they could not access the courts and their attorneys could not find them.
ICE is not by law required to detain many of those it plans to deport, but it keeps non-citizens locked up to prevent them from absconding. A parent whose singular concern is getting her kids back is scarcely a flight risk. ICE nonetheless takes confinement to an extreme. Even when parents know about their juvenile court hearings, ICE categorically refuses to transport them to juvenile court hearings where vital decisions about their families are made. In hundreds of interviews with attorneys and caseworkers, not one had ever seen a detained parent appear in person at a hearing. Some detainees are not even able to arrange to phone into the hearings.
Unsurprisingly for a system in which about 85 percent of detainees lack legal representation and can be held for months, sometimes years, in squalid conditions, ICE functions without any obligation to the legal needs of the people it detains. And juvenile court judges are powerless to compel ICE to do anything.
“Parents [should] have an absolute right to be present in a court hearing,” a juvenile court judge in Pima County, Ariz., told us, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We order that if they are in custody they appear, but these orders are not honored by the detention facilities. We don’t have the authority over the federal centers.”
A month after she was initially detained, Roberta was finally able to contact her court appointed attorney by phone. But the attorney spoke no Spanish and they could not communicate. Roberta still arranged to call in to the next court hearing, but she says that because of a bad phone connection over the detention center phone, she understood nothing uttered in the courtroom.
Without any specific policy for addressing the needs of detained parents, child welfare agencies often treat them as if they’ve abandoned their children. And so, after several months in detention and no contact with her children, Roberta says she got a letter in the mail. “All [the court] sent me was a Spanish sheet with threats,” she said. “If you don’t appear, you’ll lose kids. That’s all it said.”
There was also little chance she could have complied with the child welfare department’s overall plan for family reunification. Detention centers provide parents no access to the services and programs needed to take part in their case plans for reunification, which for her would have consisted of treatment for alcohol abuse, parenting classes and visitation with her children.
Because detainees are often moved to detention centers far away from their homes—an average of 370 miles—they can rarely see their children. Though the Obama administration has said that it plans to overhaul immigration detention practices, including making efforts to detain non-citizens closer to their homes, as of August 2011, this promise did not appear to have taken effect in any significant way.
Parental Rights End at the Border
Josefina and Clara were deported to Mexico after three months in immigration detention. They made their way to Michoacán, 1,000 miles south of the border, to their mother’s home, where they began trying to regain custody of their children.
During a July 2011 phone interview from Michoacán, Josefina spoke quietly about the baby she never got to bid goodbye. “I don’t know where my child is, I have no contact with my baby,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong to have my children taken away from me. I didn’t steal, I didn’t do drugs, nothing. Why did they take my children?”
Once parents are deported, the threats to their families grow. While parents are detained, child welfare departments are largely prostrate to reunify families. Once mothers and fathers are deported, however, the agencies often switch gears, actively slowing down the reunification process and sometimes halting those efforts altogether.
Soon after they were deported, the sisters contacted the Mexican consulate in New Mexico to ask for help in regaining their parental rights. The consulate began corresponding with the child welfare department on the sisters’ behalf. For months after their deportation, a staff person at the consulate repeatedly told Clara and Josefina that the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department planned to reunify the family as soon as the sisters could prove that they had stable housing and jobs. Yet, even after they found work and were set up in their mother’s home, the children remained in foster care. Reunification dates cited by the department came and went, but still, no children.
According to the sisters, the New Mexico child welfare department would not let the mothers speak by phone with the youngest two of the three children and Clara spoke only once to her 6 year old. According to Josefina and Clara, they heard word that their children were placed in three different foster homes and the babies were being raised entirely in English. They feared their children would not remember them even if they were reunified and they began to believe they might never see their children again.
“I miss everything about my kids,” said Clara through sobs over the phone. “How I spent Saturday and Sundays with them, how I made my home with them, all of it. Then my children were just gone.”
Many deported parents make the tormented decision to make the bloody desert journey over the U.S.-Mexico border without papers so that they can be present at juvenile court hearings. Caseworkers around the country said that in many cases, when a parent of a foster child is deported, they are back weeks later to appear in a juvenile courtroom to try and reclaim their children.
The risks of crossing are enormous. In addition to growing violence in Mexico against migrants crossing into the U.S., immigrants caught in the country after a previous deportation now face prison time. Until recently, immigrants who were deported before were simply deported again. Now, “illegal reentry” is treated as a federal criminal offense that carries sentences of years. The charge now accounts for nearly half of all federal criminal prosecutions.
Clara and Josefina did not risk crossing back over the border; the fear of violence on the border or of extended incarceration was too great. So for a year, they waited, in fear their parental rights would be terminated.
In late September 2011, their hope dwindling, the Mexican consulate in New Mexico phoned the sisters at their mother’s house in Michoacán. “They told us to go to the airport the next day,” said Clara.
In the morning they drove three hours to the airport. Two employees of the Mexican government escorted the three children off the plane. In the middle of a waiting room at the airport, after 14 months apart, Josefina and Clara took the children into their arms.
The next day, now back at their mother’s home with the sounds of pouring rain in the background, Clara said over the phone, “It hurts me so much to talk about this. I don’t want to remember anymore.” Now the family will try to piece themselves back together.
For many, however, separation is not memory. It is a present horror. In July, after seven months of detention, Roberta was deported to Mexico. She was given no notice before she was loaded onto an ICE bus and dropped at the border. ICE did not give her time to call her children’s caseworker or her court-appointed attorney before her removal and she arrived in Mexico with nothing but $10, given to her by another deportee.
Deportation too often leads to the seamless termination of parental rights. In jurisdictions around the country, child welfare departments and children’s attorneys have successfully argued that it is in a child’s best interest to remain in the U.S. rather than join their parents in another country. Though child welfare departments are required by law to try to reunify children with their parents, and research shows that children fare better with their families than in foster care, the principal is often quashed when a border stands in the way.
Many caseworkers and attorneys noted to us a pervasive bias against placing children in another country. “When you break down the cases, placement with parents in Mexico happens very rarely,” an attorney who represents children and parents in El Paso, Texas, told us. “The knee-jerk reaction of almost everyone is that the children are better off in U.S.”
As a parents’ attorney in Takoma, Wash., said in describing several cases like Roberta’s, “They’re deported and they’re treated like they fall off the face of the earth.”
Some jurisdictions, especially those near the U.S.-Mexico border, are working to interrupt this rapid move to sever families. In San Diego County, Calif., and El Paso County, Texas, for example, the child welfare departments have established international liaisons who work with the Mexican consulate and Mexican child welfare department to place children with their families in Mexico. Without the consulate, Clara and Josefina would still be without their children.
Yet most countries lack any formal policy for deported parents and ultimately, when parents are detained and deported, families are shattered.
In the detention center, before she was deported, Roberta looked up from the photo of her children and stated a policy that many would think is common sense. “If you send the mom to Mexico,” she said, “let her take her kids with her.” It has now been one year since she lost custody of her children. Her family’s status remains in limbo.
Undocumented Immigrant Students at Brooklyn College Form ‘DREAM Team’
By Feet in Two Worlds • 11/02/11
NEW YORK—Anayely Gomez looks like your average Brooklyn College student. She wears her dark hair in a high ponytail and a backpack slung over one shoulder. A dimple dots one cheek when she smiles and a determined crease appears in her brow as she describes her new student club. But the 23-year-old bilingual education major will not be able to work as a teacher after she graduates this fall. Teachers in New York State must be fingerprinted. To be fingerprinted, a teacher must submit a Social Security number. Gomez doesn’t have one.
On Monday, October 17, Gomez and Cesar Ventura, a sophomore Latino Studies major, held elections for their student club, “The Dream Team,” the first club on campus to focus on the DREAM Act and immigration issues. Gomez is the new club president and Ventura was elected vice president.
It all began as a Facebook group, where students could post petitions for relatives and friends who were in detention centers or at risk of deportation.
“I want undocumented students to come out and not be afraid anymore. I want them to not be in the shadows,” said Gomez.
On Thurday, October 27, the Dream Team hosted its first event, “The Right to Dream.” Dreamers formed a circle, sharing their stories, and The New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) immigration attorney Gisela Chavez-Garcia spoke about “misconceptions about getting your papers”.
Gomez was motivated to become an activist when she ran into problems securing her final set of credits this semester, a student teaching position which required that she be fingerprinted. She searched the Internet for guidance and discovered NYSYLC, an organization run by immigrant youth endeavoring to pass the DREAM act.
Gomez began attending meetings and met another student who had studied bilingual education and had run into the same problem. Since she was interested in a short-term teaching job, Gomez was advised to say that her Social Security card was on its way, and the plan has worked so far.
At NYSYLC, Gomez learned of the nation-wide “dreamer movement” and the DREAM Act, which would allow students who came to the country before the age of 16 to begin a six-year process which, as long as they complete high school and two years of college or military service, could end in permanent citizenship. She decided that fighting for New York State to pass the DREAM Act was her only chance at achieving a better future.
Although she is the oldest of three sisters who are each about a year apart, Gomez’s siblings have not shared her struggles.
When she was three-years-old Gomez and her parents traveled to the U.S. from Mexico City in the back of a truck, with several other families she did not know. Her sister Alma, who is now 22 and has recently reconnected with Gomez through Facebook, was left behind to be raised by her grandparents. Gomez said that she remembers little about the journey, but recalled crouching under leaves and gardening tools as they drove across the border.
“I remember faintly my mother telling me, ‘Don’t say anything. Be quiet,’” Gomez said.
Gomez’s youngest sister Araceli was born in Brooklyn, NY, making her a U.S. citizen. As the oldest, Gomez always tried to to set an example for her sister, working multiple minimum-wage jobs, sometimes 12-hour shifts, while getting consistent A’s in college. Though the sisters are close now, Gomez initially resented Araceli’s privileges as a citizen.
“I had to be her role model, but it hurt that she had it easier,” said Gomez. “She is able to apply to any school, she can get financial aid, she can travel, she can get a state I.D., and she can work anywhere. We got into fights because she seemed to take it for granted and it didn’t seem fair that I had to work twice as hard.”
When Gomez was nine, her father was almost deported when the factory he worked at was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He managed to hide under a table and made it home to tell his family about the ordeal. Still, Gomez did not completely understand that her family was different since immigration status was rarely spoken about.
“It didn’t hit me until I tried to get a summer job in high school like my friends. I felt very out of place. I thought, ‘I’m not like my friends. I can’t work. I can’t travel. I can’t vote.’ It was very scary.”
Ventura, who will succeed Gomez as president of the club after she graduates this fall, traveled from Mexico City to Brooklyn when he was eight. Like Gomez, he did not have to worry that he was different until high school when he realized that he could not get a job or learn to drive like his friends. In his senior year, he was accepted to most colleges of his choice, but could not attend them.
Some, like Syracuse University, had tuition and living expenses that were too expensive to manage without financial aid or loans unavailable to DREAMers. Even with a 3.6 GPA, Ventura did not qualify for the limited scholarships available to DREAMers at some schools.
“The reality is CUNY has very few scholarships available for undocumented students. Undocumented students can apply to CUNY Honors College. It’s available only to outstanding undocumented students, and it offers a laptop, a stipend and full tuition scholarship,” said Sofia Carreno, communications coordinator for CUNY’s immigration center, Citizenship Now, which Ventura said had helped him.
“If I wasn’t in this situation I don’t think that I would appreciate everything that I have. In the end it makes me work harder,” said Ventura.
He joined forces with Gomez because he wanted to motivate other DREAMers to tell their stories and speak out for immigration reform.
Ventura had strong words for undocumented students at Brooklyn College who might be afraid to put their parents at risk.
“I know that our parents struggled for us to be here, but they brought us here for a better life. We are not making it better by staying in the shadows. We have to act on what our parents wanted for us. If we cannot get a job, then we cannot have what our parents wanted—a better life. It’s something that we all deserve.”
Gomez agreed. “If we can acquire the language and skills to get a better job, then in the end we will be able to better help our parents,” she said.
While so far the group is predominantly Latino, the club’s new treasurer is Indonesian and they are reaching out to DREAM Act-eligible students of all nationalities. Students at other CUNY schools – Lehman College and Baruch College – have recently formed similar clubs to support the DREAMer movement.