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:
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.