The Dream Act Starts with You


Orange Suit

This post is part of a series, click here to read the previous post.

My journey to start on my graduate degree was interrupted. After being detained and questioned by Border Patrol, I was taken to a county jail. At the jail, I was stripped of my belongings and given an orange suit, a bit too big for my size, undergarments, socks, and sandals. It was hard not to think of how many people have worn these before. As I was being taken to my cell, I received a few comments from the guards, such as their belief that my college ID was surely fake, since in their worldview, all illegal immigrants are criminals of some sort. I dared not to respond because of my fear that everything I said could make matters worse in unimaginable ways.

Jail cell bars.

As the bars closed behind me, I had lost any hope of continuing toward my goals. I was sure that I would be deported to Mexico any day now and that I would not see my family again for ten years. My fears were based on the uncertainty of what was to come next. I tossed and turned during that night, my heart was palpitating. I tried to calm down, but my mind wasn’t letting me. I woke up to the call of the guards, who were ready to provide me with some plain cereal and a milk carton for breakfast.

Later that morning, I was allowed a fifteen minutes phone call with my family. They too were not sure about what was to do next. My older sister assured me that she would try her best to get me out of jail as soon as possible. It was chaos.

While my parents were trying to work out a course of action, I was trying to get used to my new environment. I dreaded waking up every morning. It was so cold inside the jail, since it was still May in upstate New York. The mattress I slept on was thin and was only good for inflicting my body with aches at night. I was only let out of my cell to shower and eat in the cell pod’s aluminum table.

By the third day, my heart was no longer racing at night and I was used to the daily routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, accompanied by comments from the guards about the American jobs that I’ve allegedly conspired to steal. My family members were doing better as well. On the fourth day, they found out that I could be released if they paid a bond of $5000. Two questions remained. First, how would they raise so much money? Second, how would they approach the local ICE office?

One of my relatives suggested that my parents to turn to an organization in their community, Southwest Organizing Project, to talk about the problem of approaching ICE. The organization has a program in which volunteers pay the bail on the family’s behalf. My sister went on the phone for the next three days straight, calling friends and family to lend us a hand in coming up with the money. On the seventh day, after I finally appeared in the system, my family was finally able to post bail.

On that day, early in the morning, a guard appeared, strolling along the cells, “Juan Ramirez. You are being released,” he called out into the corridor. Upon hearing his words, I froze. He stopped in front of my cell and said, “Do you want to stay here or what?” Horrified by the idea of staying there any longer, I jolted to my feet, gathered the sheets and followed him, shaking. The guard asked why I looked so frightened, since I should feel happy that I was being released. I responded solemnly and without hesitation, “Because this is only the beginning.” He did not understand what I meant by that.

(Read the next post of this series tomorrow.)