Charlotte – An undocumented student in North Carolina who could be deported to Mexico is trusting that the NC DREAM Team, made up of young people supporting the long-stalled legislation known as the DREAM Act, can help him win his battle to remain in the United States.
"They are going over my situation, they have experience, I feel safe and although I'm nervous about what could happen, it's better to come out of the shadows and fight than remain silent," 22-year-old Erick Velazquillo said on Tuesday.
First introduced in the U.S. Congress a decade ago, the DREAM Act would offer a path to legalization for many undocumented youths, provided they enlist in the Armed Forces or attend college.
The future for Velazquillo, who arrived in the United States 20 years ago and has lived for the past 12 years in Charlotte, will be decided by an immigration judge on July 19.
He was detained last October for driving without turning on his headlights and with an expired license, but upon arriving at the Mecklenburg County jail, his irregular immigration situation was discovered via Program 287(g).
He spent three days in jail until his family paid his bail and, although certain organizations advised not to fight his case out of fear of reprisals from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he decided to seek help.
"I felt bad, frustrated and deceived, that everything my parents and I had worked for wasn't worth anything," said Velazquillo, who completed two years of study at the Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.
"I studied in this country for 20 years and I haven't done anything. I want to prevent others in my situation from going through what I'm experiencing," he said.
According to Domenic Powell, the spokesman for the NC DREAM Team, an attorney filed an appeal in the immigration court in Charlotte and the group is also circulating via the Internet a petition of support for the young man that they will ultimately present to North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, ICE chief John Morton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"This is not only Erick's cause but also that of more than 51,000 students in this state who have the same situation. Therefore, we're asking them to stop being afraid and to organize themselves to avoid more deportations," Powell told Efe.
Last November, the NC DREAM Team prevented the deportation of Fredd Reyes, a student at Guilford Technical Community College, thanks to an e-mail campaign on his behalf.
The Department of Homeland Security deferred 542 deportations in 2010.
Although the administration of President Barack Obama has deported about 800,000 immigrants in the past two years, it has also reaffirmed its desire not to expel from the country university students without criminal records.
In a recent memorandum, ICE's Morton urged agents to use their "discretion" and to give "special consideration" to individuals who have been present in the country since they were children and who are attending college.
However, Powell feels that ICE programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) aggravate the situation of immigrants like Velazquillo, who says he fears being sent to Mexico, a country with which he is not familiar.