A few weeks ago, the DREAM Act was narrowly defeated in Congress. Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina was one of the few Democrats who voted "no" on the bill. Below is a letter I wrote to her in response. I hope this letter motivates her to next time vote in favor of the young people of our country and our state, but more than that, I hope it motivates allies of undocumented young people to be louder, and take a stand on these issues in the future.
Dear Senator Hagan,
First off, let’s face it. You will never read this letter. But one of your staffers will. To you staffer, please read this whole letter. I know this is belated, but this is important to me, and more so, it is important to my friends.
I’m struggling with our relationship Senator Hagan. I have to be honest. I moved to North Carolina two years ago, and immediately admired you. You do so much good for North Carolina, especially in the area of reproductive health, the field that I work in. I’ve met with your staff several times, and they have always been supportive of us in our work, and so have you. For that I am grateful.
However, your vote on the DREAM Act was unforgivable. Our relationship will never be the same because I just can’t move past that vote. Let me tell you why.
Before I worked in reproductive rights, I worked in immigrant rights. (Not that the two fields are mutually exclusive, but more on that later). I did immigrant rights organizing and worked at a health clinic that served undocumented immigrants for three years in Denver. While I was there, I made a lot of friends, many of them undocumented immigrants. Good people. Hard working people. Kind, honest, wonderful people. I learned a lot from them, about life in general, but also about the effects of immigration on the children of immigrants.
One of these people was a young man named Jaime. You never would have known he was undocumented, at least he didn’t fit the “stereotype”. He came here when he was young, maybe 7 or 8, with his relatives. He went to school here, spoke perfect English, had a great job and a nice car. He was about 25 by the time I met him. Jaime loved this country. He wanted to make our country a better place. He stood up for others and fought for undocumented folks (all 12 million of them) to have a voice. He worked hard at his job, and volunteered constantly outside of work. He loved his family and friends.
He wanted to be a citizen, to have a vote in the country he had lived in for so long. He petitioned for citizenship, but once the government found out he was undocumented, he was automatically red flagged by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They went looking for him. ICE came to his house. They kicked down his door. They took him to jail and deported him. I never saw my friend again.He resettled in Mexico where his family was from, near Juarez. He reappeared on Facebook and we reconnected. He seemed to be doing ok, working, trying to adjust to life in a place his parents had moved him from so long ago.
Then, in November I received a call from a friend in Denver. Jaime had gone to the hospital in Juarez to visit a friend. Armed men showed up and gunned down the hospital entrance. Apparently someone being treated in the hospital was somehow tied to a local cartel. Many were shot, Jaime was one of them. He was not connected to the armed men, or the cartel, or even the person at the hospital connected to the cartel. He did not survive.
I know what you’re thinking Senator Hagan: “typical illegal, connected with gangs and drugs”. But respectfully, you’re wrong Senator Hagan. Not Jaime. He wanted the world to be a better place, he had no interest in those things.
I miss my friend. Though time and distance has certainly kept us apart, I can feel a void in the world where he used to be. He was a person that worked tirelessly to make our country a better place, and now that spirit is gone. I can’t help but think of this horrible cycle of violence that so many young people in our country are trapped in. A cycle perpetuated by our two countries. I think we can all agree that our immigration system, and the Mexican government, are broken.
You had an opportunity to take an important step towards fixing that broken situation Senator Hagan. The Dream Act would have helped those most hurt and made most vulnerable by this situation: the undocumented young people in our country, who had little choice in coming here, and now have little opportunity to be thriving citizens of a nation they love. Had the DREAM Act been in place earlier, it would have saved my friend, and it would have helped so many more young people who so desperately want to be a part of and give back to this country.
As a reproductive health professional, I can’t help but see the links between the DREAM Act and teen pregnancy prevention. If young people cannot attain their goals and dreams, go to college, have a career, where is the motivation for preventing pregnancy? North Carolina has one of the highest Latina teen pregnancy rates in the country. Our teen pregnancy rate in 2009 was 56, the rate for Hispanic teens was 118. There is an obvious connection between lack of opportunity and resources, and higher teen birth rates. As an avid supporter of reproductive health, I thought you would have seen that.
I think about Jaime a lot. He put himself on the line everyday to stand up for others, and what is just. To Jaime: I’m sorry. I’ve been quiet on the issue of immigration for too long. This letter is my apology to you.
I think about my other friends who are undocumented. Wonderful, talented young people who make our country better. To my undocumented friends in North Carolina, and across the country: I will never stop fighting for you. You have enriched my life, you enrich this state and country. We will never give up.
To allies of undocumented immigrants and supporters of reproductive health: We must be louder. This is not a fight that can be fought without dedicated and vocal allies. Representative Joe Baca has just introduced the PROUD Act, an updated version of the DREAM ACT. We need to support him, and our other legislators who favor these measures.
Senator Hagan. You let me down. You let down several million young people. You let down Jaime. You have new opportunities to support young people in this new congress. I’m asking you to do the right things, and stand up for young people in your state support legislation that supports them.
To the Senate staffer reading this letter: You and I both know Senator Hagan will probably not read this, so thanks for reading this in her stead if you’ve made it this far. I needed someone to hear this story, to help Jaime make a difference, even after he is gone. I hope you know, and you will tell her, what an opportunity she missed to chance the lives of so many North Carolina youth.
And at the end of the day, if you have to summarize this letter to her you can say that it says: Senator Hagan, you missed an opportunity. And I miss my friend.
Sincerely, A North Carolina Advocate
Below – A photo of Jaime at a march he helped to plan in 2007