Don’t Just DREAM…Act!

The mid-January air was cold that night, as I struggled, in black three inch heel boots and a tea-length silver skirt, to jump out of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement van, hands cuffed behind my back, loose braid slowly coming undone. Putting up a brave face, I smiled politely at the officer who escorted me, and strolled casually as though we were on our way to Baskin Robbins.

I had never seen the inside of a jail, except for on TV. As I walked in, I could feel the eyes of several of the male inmates, already in their cells, following me as I was instructed to sit and wait to be processed. Who was this girl sitting awkwardly in this jail, looking strangely out of place?

For the longest time, I didn’t understand why. Why me? Why did I have to have the bad luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Why did it have to happen that the officer who pulled me over would choose to turn me over to immigration?

One week ago, I stepped out of an elevator at the immigration court to find myself surrounded by media. Television cameras were being white balanced; photo cameras were flashing continuously. Microphones and notepads filled the air. It was just like in the movies. It was surreal. And I finally understood.

As I shared my story, talking about how I had been granted a postponement of trial, giving me three extra months in the country, one of the reporters asked, “Why is that important?”

“Its important”, I answered, “because it gives me three more months to fight for the DREAM Act”. I meant every single word of that. I am convinced that this whole ordeal happened to give me an opportunity to fight for something in which I really believe. Skeptics may call it coincidence. Others may say it’s a lost cause. But I have made it my own personal mission that, if these are to be my last few months at home, I am going to do everything within my power to try to strengthen my country by making the DREAM of so many young people, myself included, come true.

It brings me to tears when I think of how many people have reached out to help the cause. People whom I had never met before have gone out of their way to find me and say, “I believe in the DREAM Act. How can I help?” Former teachers of mine have emailed me words of encouragement and told me how they just know this is the year for change. Countless people have reminded me that they are praying and wishing the best for me.

These acts of sincere, selfless kindness, constantly remind me that, alone I cannot do much, but as a community, we can create genuine change. At the end of the day, if the DREAM Act is forgotten, my story is going to be just another one of many immigration tragedies. But I am not the important one here. The only thing that differentiates me from the person who has spent countless hours behind a computer screen, writing letters in support of the DREAM Act, or the person who has called their Senators and Representatives 137 times in the past week, or the person who has emailed all of their friends to please contact their Congressional representatives, is that I have lost my anonymity. These are the true heroes of the DREAM Act, those who work behind screens and who gather to share their stories in small group settings— those who network via Facebook, or on Twitter, to make others aware of the importance of the DREAM. These are the people who truly deserve, but cannot get, the attention.

So, what happens now? Action. Many of us have DREAMt long enough. Now we must Act. Don’t just read this post and forget all about it. Write a letter in support of the DREAM Act. Invite a friend to do the same. Go ahead and call your Representative. Tell them you support the DREAM Act. Email your Senator. One person alone cannot do it. But together…we can. I feel an impulse to shout out, “Si Se Puede!” But shouting alone in a bedroom or being frustrated or getting angry will not help. The only thing that will really help is if we all act. Let’s make this the year. Don’t just DREAM…Act.

Resources for Action:

Ten Things You Can Do for the DREAM Act!

Find Your Elected Official and Send an Email of Support for the DREAM Act via Congress.org.

Learn more about the DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform at MATT.org.

Benita Veliz has become one of the most vocal advocates for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). Though undocumented, Benita has lived the American Dream, becoming valedictorian of her high school and double majoring in Biology and Sociology at St. Mary’s University, where she graduated with honors. Benita’s story has been at the center of national media attention, including the New York Times, San Antonio Express-News, Texas Monthly, and the national Univision network.



For the People: Justice is Unserved.

There is a difference between justice and law. The two are imperfectly paired, as one is an idealized concept of equity while the other is a definition of permissible or impermissible behavior. Law is the mechanical structure that we create to achieve justice. But as human beings we are fraught with natural imperfection and our laws suffer for our faults, often falling somewhere short of justice’s ideal.

Luis Ramirez has been dead for almost a year. He died in a hospital, the victim of a severe beating that his body was not able to withstand. He left behind two young children and a fiance. On the first of May, the young men who administered that beating were acquitted of murder in a Pennsylvania court, found guilty of no more than simple assault. They had been drinking the night of the incident. Six teens. All white. High school heroes of the local football team. Luis Ramirez was accompanied only by the young sister of his fiance. Insults were exchanged. A fight broke out. The fight stopped for long enough that Ramirez made a phone call to a friend for help. The fight resumed. It was nearly over when the friend arrived, brought to a close when Ramirez was kicked in the head as he lay on the ground. The six white teens fled the scene and Luis Ramirez was unconscious, foaming at the mouth.

Police eventually arrived on the scene, but did not pursue the reported assailants. With Ramirez on his way to a hospital in an ambulance, the police in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania thought it was of greater importance to frisk the friends that had answered his last phone call, and to search their vehicle for weapons. On the other hand, the teenage boys that ran from the scene were able to go about their lives for almost two weeks before being arrested. As revealed in last month’s trial, the first day of those two weeks allowed the boys to meet and to concoct a story to bolster their defense.

The foreman of the jury that acquitted these young men has made public statements that his co-jurors were predisposed to a verdict of “not guilty” against the defendants, and that the reason they were predisposed was because the defendants were white and the victim was not. Perhaps I have not yet mentioned that all 12 jurors were white.

One of the fundamental principles of the legal system in our country is the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The same jury foreman that believes his co-jurors were racist and impartial also believes that the prosecution failed to overcome that doubt, and his 11 colleagues agreed. Sadly, the ghost of Luis Ramirez could not take the stand and point a ghoulish finger at each of his attackers. So instead, the bigot-riddled jury got to hear a lot of things that we have also heard from mainstream media outlets. Things that make an attempt to demean the character of the dead man, and somehow make him complicit in his own death.

Luis Ramirez was a 25-year-old illegal immigrant in the company of a 15-year-old “girlfriend” at the time he was attacked. This 15-year-old was not his fiance. He had two children out of wedlock with a white woman, who also had a third child that was not fathered by Ramirez. No one knows for sure if the white kids began insulting Ramirez, or if he made a provocative statement towards them first. The fight could have possibly ended before the immigrant received fatal blows, but as he walked away from his assailants, further insults caused him to charge back at them and resume the fight.

Try and tell me that you don’t see what this information is supposed to provide you. Subtly, or perhaps subliminally, these details are meant to paint Luis Ramirez as a freeloading border-crosser who came to our country to steal jobs and not pay taxes. He was a lecherous, miscegenational pedophile who seemed oblivious of birth control. He didn’t have the good sense to walk away from a fight when he could have, and suffered the consequences.

These are the details that we’ve heard about Luis Ramirez, and these are the details that the jury heard also. When you already have a prejudiced audience, highlighting the most stereotypical details of this man’s life are not going to help convince anyone to see things differently. It matters not that Ramirez had been working as a farm-hand in our country, picking lettuce and strawberries, for about six years. Only that he didn’t have the legal documentation that would allow him to do so. It didn’t matter that his work and his day-to-day life in Shenandoah contributed to the community. It only mattered that he was not on the radar of the IRS. And, yes, I have read multiple versions of Ramirez’s relationship to the girl he was with, and versions of her relationship to his fiance, and varying stories of whether the fiance was or was not his fiance, and multiple versions of the paternity of her children, but all of those things are only meant to conjure puritanical discomfort over someone’s sexual activities. It’s a smokescreen and a diversion meant to obscure the fact that a man was murdered.

The law of the United States is actually designed to protect the accused. The law worked in this case. These teenage boys were allowed to stand before a jury of their (all white) peers, and the burden was on the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they were guilty of purposely ending the life of Luis Ramirez because he was not a white American. The prosecution did not overcome that burden, and thus the jury was only convinced that the accused were guilty of assaulting someone.

And, they would likely tell you in hushed tones, that damned illegal Mexican had a beating coming to him anyway.

The Constitution enumerates several principles intended to preserve justice for all, while at the same time, laying the foundation of law. The 5th amendment provides due process. The 6th guarantees trial by jury and advice of legal counsel. The 14th amendment provides some details concerning citizenship, but also clearly states that no State shall deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law.

This must include undocumented immigrants.

Luis Ramirez was not granted the 14th amendment rights that were his due. Justice has not been served. Forget the interpretation of the law minced and portioned by the defense attorneys. The intent of the law – to serve justice – demands that these young men must pay for their crime. Their use of racial epithets demonstrates a hostility toward Latinos. Their overwhelming numbers demonstrate an intent to do grave harm. Delivering a kick to a man’s head and running away, as far as I’m concerned, demonstrates a willingness to cause death, as it certainly demonstrates an indifference towards his continued life. And corroboration amongst the group a day after the murder demonstrates an intent to manipulate the investigation and the legal process to the detriment of justice. They must not go unpunished for any of these crimes.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is petitioning the U.S. Department of Justice to open a Federal investigation over the racially-motivated murder of Luis Ramirez. I am making a direct appeal to all who read this. Sign that petition. I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I feel that every person on this planet deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; not just those of us lucky enough to have been born in a land that promises it. I’m not Hispanic, not a friend or relative or Luis Ramirez, not an enemy of white kids or the State of Pennsylvania. I’m just a writer, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Sign that petition. Do it now.