The Dream Act Starts with You


Reflect and regroup

What happened

Here’s what really happened on Saturday: laws didn’t change. Nobody destroyed your dreams. Nobody said that you will never be recognized. Nobody claimed, “this is it, your fight is over.” This is as far as the Dream Act has ever been taken. And you took it here.

How to make sense of it

There is no “due by” date on the Dream Act. You can either leave the battle in the hands of the willing and hope that the law will arrive in time, or you can join the ranks and fight.

If your “due by” date is graduation, I’m here to tell you that even if we make that date, life will remain full of obstacles. The path that you face is difficult, but so is the path faced by your “legal” peers. Fortunately, our problem, like others, can be fixed with applied effort and persistence.

A Republican congress isn’t the end

Look at the facts: In 2007, we witnessed debate on comprehensive immigration reform and a cloture vote on the Dream Act, with a split Senate and a Democratic House, backed by Pres. Bush. IIRIRA of 1996 was the work of a fully Republican congress, backed by a Pres. Clinton. The so-called “un-American liberal amnesty death-bill of 1986” that we hear so much about was the work of a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, backed by Pres. Reagan.

We fight for truth and justice, not red or blue. I, for one, don’t care which party is in control. Both have proven themselves equality inadequate.

This is not the end, it is a new chapter. It is time to reflect and regroup.

Dream Act passes House, what now?

Dec 15, the House passes the Dream Act, 216 - 198

A deserved victory! The Dream Act is on the home stretch, but we’re facing tough obstacles and need you with us for the last push.

Republicans still holding out

Between now and the upcoming Senate vote, we must get at least four Republican senators to commit on the Dream Act. Make the following calls:

“I urge [Senator …] to vote Yea on the Dream Act.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Dial (202) 224-6521

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
Dial (202) 224-2523
or Email

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Dial (202) 224-6665
or Email

Sen. Bennett of Utah and Sen. Lugar of Indiana have already expressed their willingness to vote Yea on the Dream Act:

“I thank [Senator …] for supporting the Dream Act and want to remind him to vote Yea on the bill.”

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Dial (202) 224-5444

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Dial (202) 224-4814
or Email

Still up to Sen. Reid

As of today, with Bush-era tax cuts cleared in the Senate, it is entirely up to Sen. Reid to bring the Dream Act to a vote. The Senate session will be extended past this week, however the window for a vote is still closing fast. Let Sen. Reid know that you’re paying attention:

Dial (202) 224-3542 and Email
“I urge Senator Reid to schedule the Dream Act vote before the end of the lame duck session.”

Last hearing


Since August 2008, I’ve traveled between Chicago, IL, Rochester, NY and Buffalo, NY six times by Amtrak and ten times by Greyhound in order to get to my deportation hearings. During these trips, I’ve encountered Border Patrol agents twice on Amtrak and at least five times on Greyhound. The routine is always the same: “Are you a U.S. citizen? What country are you from?” I respond, “No” and show my court notice paper. The agent examines it briefly and moves on.

November 5th, I left Chicago for my last court hearing in Buffalo, NY. This time the routine was broken: the agent finished with a curtly “Good luck, sir.” Five days later I stood In the courtroom.

We informed the judge that voluntary departure was a not a good option for me. To which he replied, “Very well then.” At this point the hearing took on an evermore impersonal and bureaucratic character. The judge rattled off the verdict, my order of deportation. All thought subsided; my mind went blank. The hearing ended with my lawyer reserving the right to appeal the case, giving me another thirty days with my family.

Moments later, I was alone in the waiting room. I cried. Unlike my breakdown after the first hearing, this time I knew the reason for my tears. I was angry and frustrated. Angry at the senselessness of the situation. Frustrated since in the two years that I’ve been going to these hearings the Dream Act still hasn’t passed and relief remained on the horizon.

By November 14th, I was back with my family in Chicago. Today, my appeals period ends. At this point I am uncertain how much time I have left or when and if I will have to ask for your help. As always, I continue doing what I can to help inch the Dream Act forward.

Voluntary departure is defeat

In November, my two year long battle with deportation proceedings was nearing an end. At the end there are always two options:

Voluntary departure: You will have 60 days to leave the country on your own with no right to “change your mind” or appeal. Failure to depart by the end of that period would result in a fine and a 10-year ban from adjusting your status or applying for cancellation of removal. Choosing voluntary departure would prevent you from asking for any kind of temporary relief, including deferred action.

Voluntary departure is one of the reasons why you should be very careful signing anything given to you by ICE or Border Patrol. They might coerce you into voluntary departure by describing it as an easy way out of jail, which it is. Unfortunately, it is also designed to waive your right to a hearing and with it any chance of staying in the United States.

Order of deportation: The judge will order ICE to take steps to deport you. ICE will arrange your flight out and send your lawyer a letter stating when and where to report for removal. However, you still get the option to appeal the case within 30 days of the order. At the end of 30 days you can submit a request for an order of supervision (deferred action), which is your last line of defense before being deported.

Before going to my final hearing, my lawyer and I determined that my last line of defense was, in fact, deferred action. Opting for voluntary departure meant throwing in the towel and accepting defeat. Receiving an order of deportation meant fighting another battle for the right to stay with my family and friends. Armed with this information I got ready for my last time to face the judge.

Click here for the next part of my story.

Why retain a lawyer and where to find her

As stated in the first post of the series, one of my main goals is to remind Dream Act beneficiaries that you have rights (remain silent) when detained by Border Patrol or ICE. One of your fundamental rights is the right for representation, use it. Getting the best representation that I could find has greatly reduced the stress induced by the courtroom.

Retaining a lawyer while you are in jail will be costlier than doing so after your family posts your bail. When I was detained, my family contacted many lawyers in Chicago. To post bail and to retain representation at this point would have cost us $15,000 -- five thousand for the bail and ten thousand for lawyer fees. We didn’t have this much money, after posting bail with help from the Southwest Organizing Project; I faced my first hearing alone.

After the first hearing, a Chicago based lawyer, who came recommended, helped me find a qualified and reputable lawyer in Buffalo through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). I was advised that a lawyer who practices in the area is familiar with the local immigration court and would be better equipped to represent me. A resource to find low cost representation is the database of non-profit organizations and law firms provided by the U.S. Department of Justice. In time for my second hearing, I retained the lawyer for $5,000, thousands of dollars less than what my family was quoted while I was in jail.

Investing in representation has payed off. Without my lawyer’s expertise, I would have been separated from my family long ago.

Click here for the next part.