The Dream Act Starts with You



On a Sunday much like today I was walking across the stage to receive my bachelors degree, tomorrow I would find myself in handcuffs.

I was on a Greyhound bus on my way to start graduate school. As an undocumented student, I’ve heard about the risks of traveling, but I chose to do it anyway. I was determined not to let fear stop me from achieving my dreams.

It was noon when the bus stopped, pulling me awake. Instinctively, I looked out the window to see where the bus had stopped and I saw men in green uniform. They made their way to the bus. Nervously, I decided to call a friend to strike up a conversation, hoping that the agents would let me be. As I talked on the phone, I saw the agents asking the other passengers if they were US citizens and for their IDs to prove it. I continued talking to my friend -- describing how well the trip was going. The stop was Syracuse, NY, the last stop before Rochester, my destination.

Greyhound bus.

Eventually, the agent made his way to me, tapped me on the shoulder, to get my attention while I was on the phone, and asked, “Excuse me, sir, are you a US citizen?” I took the phone away from my ear but did not hang up while I remained silent. He asked for my ID. I gave him my college ID. He again asked, “Are you a US citizen?” I stood still, holding the phone in my hand. Moments later, I was getting a hold of my belongings before stepping off the bus with the agent. I felt every one’s eyes on me.

I tried my best to remain as silent as I could when the agents questioned me in the bus station. I repeatedly asked to speak to a lawyer, but my requests were ignored. Eventually, without asserting my rights to remain silent, I revealed that I was not a US citizen. Soon I was handcuffed and taken to the Border Patrol headquarters in Oswego, NY for further questioning. Throughout the questioning process I tried to reveal as little information about me as possible, such as my name. One of the officers told me that I could be taken to a detention center for more than nine months as the result of my unwillingness to speak. With the terrorizing idea of being jailed for nine months, and in a lapse of good judgement, I decided to give the agents more information about myself.

I was allowed to make some phone calls after Border Patrol agents finished questioning me. I called friends and relatives to let them know of the situation I was in and to share my alien registration number so that they could find where I was being held. Within the hour, I was handcuffed again and taken to a county jail on a Border Patrol vehicle.

Today, I am aware of what I should have done after consulting the ACLU’s materials on knowing my rights. According to ACLU, you have the right to remain ABSOLUTELY silent and assert your rights when encountered by an immigration official. It is of utmost importance that if you do speak, you do not lie about being a US citizen. If you do, that will disqualify for any kind of legalization or future immigration relief. Although I did speak, I did not lie about being a US citizen.

In my situation, as soon as I stated that I wasn’t a US citizen, Border Patrol has the right to ask for my immigration papers. Since I did not have them, that gave them further evidence that I was in the country illegally. Nevertheless, I failed to remain silent until I had a lawyer present by answering some questions about me. When one is in a similar situation, the ACLU recommends, “Always remember that even if you have answered some questions, you can still decide you do not want to answer any more questions.” Assert that you need to consult a lawyer before answering any questions.

In the next post, read the continuation of my story as I write about my experience at the county jail.