My View

‘I May Just Be One Voice, but It Matters’

Despite living in fear of deportation and arrest, a teen Dreamer decided to stand up during the holiday season and “tell people that you don’t need to be afraid, and people need to know we’re important.”

Berenice Ramirez
National Journal
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Berenice Ramirez
Dec. 12, 2013, 4:36 a.m.

In many ways, Berenice Ramirez is a typ­ic­al 17-year-old — hanging with friends in Florence, Texas, and waff­ling on which col­lege she might want to at­tend to pur­sue her dream of be­com­ing a doc­tor. In oth­er ways, as a nat­ive of Mex­ico without Amer­ic­an cit­izen­ship, she is very dif­fer­ent. She has been gran­ted De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals status but wor­ries about the pro­spect of be­ing split from her par­ents and oth­er un­doc­u­mented fam­ily mem­bers.

It’s that dif­fer­ence that led her to Wash­ing­ton this week where she walked the halls of the Ray­burn Build­ing on be­half of We Be­long To­geth­er. The group, also known as Wo­men for Com­mon Sense Im­mig­ra­tion Re­form, as­sembled kids as young as 8 — ap­peal­ing to the spir­it of the hol­i­days — to tell mem­bers of Con­gress of their con­cerns for their fam­il­ies. In read­ing their let­ters, some kids spilled tears, but Ramirez showed poise and later ex­plained why she’s be­come in­volved in polit­ic­al act­iv­ism. The let­ter she wrote to mem­bers of Con­gress ap­pears be­low.

This in­ter­view, con­duc­ted by Jody Bran­non, has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

My broth­er was the one who got our fam­ily in­volved in im­mig­ra­tion ac­tion be­cause he thought our voice needed to be heard. You nev­er see people like us go­ing out there and speak­ing out.

I came to D.C. in Septem­ber for an all-wo­men’s ac­tion, and that’s when I really star­ted to share my side of the story and how it’s im­pact­ing my fam­ily. And that’s when I felt em­powered. I may just be one voice, but it mat­ters, and we just need to fix our broken im­mig­ra­tion [sys­tem].

We live in fear of de­port­a­tion and ar­rest. We de­cided we needed someone to take ac­tion — someone to tell people that you don’t need to be afraid, and people need to know we’re im­port­ant. And we need to take ac­tion for im­mig­ra­tion re­form. The more people we get in­volved from the com­munity, the more we’ll be heard.

My old­est sis­ter just turned 24, my broth­er is 21, and my oth­er sis­ter came with me to the U.S. and she re­cently turned 20, then there’s me and my little sis­ter who is 11 — she was born here. My mom is a do­mest­ic work­er. My dad has a small busi­ness, in fence-build­ing, and he’s also a weld­er. So when he’s not work­ing at a met­al-re­cyc­ling fa­cil­ity, he’s work­ing at small jobs like land­scap­ing and tak­ing care of oth­er people’s yards.

My little sis­ter, she’s afraid of our fam­ily be­ing split up. But ac­tu­ally, my fam­ily is one of the luck­i­er fam­il­ies, be­cause we haven’t been sep­ar­ated by de­port­a­tions yet. My dad came [to the U.S.] first and star­ted send­ing money so that our mom could sup­port us, and then my mom had to leave us with my aunt in Mex­ico.

My mom left with my eld­est sis­ter and older broth­er, and we wondered when we’d see them again.

Both my par­ents came here for us to be hap­pi­er. When my sis­ter and I came to the U.S., we pre­ten­ded to be someone else’s grand­chil­dren, and we crossed through a check­point, which was dif­fer­ent from my moth­er and oth­er sib­lings who had to cross the desert.

We were one of the luck­i­er ones, and just hear­ing these oth­er kids’ stor­ies was even eye-open­ing for me be­cause I didn’t know it could be as bad as that, and now I’m more de­term­ined to help people.

I’ve al­ways wanted to be a doc­tor. My par­ents would buy me toys like syr­inges and I’d prac­tice on them. But I al­ways cared about people, and I guess that comes from the fam­ily that we are. Our par­ents work hard to provide for us, and we are close-knit and get to­geth­er all the time. My par­ents are very sup­port­ive of us, telling us that no one can tell us no if we set our mind on it. If we be­lieve in it, we should fight for our voice to be heard.

But I’ve al­ways had a pas­sion for help­ing people out, even people who I see on the streets. I want to be able to help them have a bet­ter life, just like I’m fight­ing for my fam­ily. I know how it feels to live in fear and be un­der­priv­ileged, and I want to help with oth­er people over­come their situ­ations, es­pe­cially those in Third World coun­tries. [My par­ents] taught me I’m very priv­ileged and to be grate­ful for what I have and work hard to achieve great­er things. I’ve al­ways just been like that — that’s what I live for.

[Re­gard­ing col­lege], I’m ac­tu­ally not de­cided yet. I want to do everything. But my broth­er got in­to the Uni­versity of Texas at Aus­tin, and that was the big step for us. He is gradu­at­ing early and go­ing to study abroad in China. We’re very proud of him and all that he has achieved. (People can say), “There’s someone who’s un­der­priv­ileged but who is mak­ing his dreams come true.”

I’m look­ing in­to the Uni­versity of Texas at Aus­tin, too, but I also want to be more in­de­pend­ent, to show people if that if you really want something and strive for it, you can get it. So I’m also look­ing in­to Berke­ley — I heard there are a lot op­por­tun­it­ies there, and ever since I came to Wash­ing­ton, I have been think­ing about ap­ply­ing to Geor­getown Uni­versity. It’d be a great op­por­tun­ity to get in­volved in even more ac­tions here.

[My friends at school] are really sup­port­ive. They’re so proud of me. [They tell me], “You’re get­ting out and let­ting your voice be heard!” But they don’t really un­der­stand about what’s hap­pen­ing around the world in situ­ations such as mine and oth­er un­der­priv­ileged people. But it’s really ex­cit­ing for my fam­ily, and we’re all happy that I got the chance to go to D.C., but there’s no vic­tory yet.

[When an im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure passes] “¦ it’ll change everything. It’ll be one of the best mo­ments that could ever hap­pen. I’d be cry­ing and over­whelmed with all the emo­tions that will come to me all at once. But it’ll def­in­itely be very ex­cit­ing. It’ll be a great mo­ment be­cause I’d know that my par­ents are not left out. All the hard work that they did for us has paid off and all the things they’ve ever said will fi­nally be com­ing true. My par­ents, all they really asked of us was to get an edu­ca­tion and be someone in the world and, be­ing able to do that to make them proud, it’ll be amaz­ing. Know­ing that they and oth­er people nev­er give up is so in­spir­ing, and I ad­mire it. They’re the reas­on we star­ted do­ing this — let­ting our voices be heard. We’re fight­ing for them and oth­er people who are liv­ing in the shad­ows, afraid of what might hap­pen to them and their fam­il­ies. Their con­tri­bu­tions to our coun­try will fi­nally be re­cog­nized, and we won’t have to have to be frightened any more.

Berenice Ramirez’s in­tro­duc­tion and let­ter to Con­gress:

My name is Berenice R. and I am a 17 year old DREAM­er. When I was just 2½ years old, I im­mig­rated from Guanajuato, Mex­ico, to Texas to re­unite with my par­ents, older broth­er, and eld­est sis­ter after hav­ing been sep­ar­ated from them for al­most a year.

Al­though I’ve been gran­ted DACA, my par­ents, sib­lings, and many oth­er mem­bers of my fam­ily are un­doc­u­mented. I be­lieve in the spir­it of “Si Se Puede!” and have com­plete faith that we can achieve a just solu­tion to our failed im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem. I will not give up in the struggle.

Berenice Ramirez is active with the immigrant-reform organization We Belong Together. (Courtesy photo) Courtesy photo

Dear mem­bers of Con­gress,

My name is Berenice Ramirez Cam­pos. I am 17 years old and live in Florence, a small town loc­ated in Cent­ral Texas. I came to this coun­try when I was just 2 years old. I care about re­pair­ing the broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem be­cause I am an un­doc­u­mented DREAM­er as­pir­ing to be­com­ing a doc­tor.

Not only does this is­sue af­fect me, but it also af­fects my un­doc­u­mented par­ents, sib­lings, and many oth­er fam­ily mem­bers, as well as my 11-year-old doc­u­mented sis­ter.

The broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem has kept my eld­est sis­ter from pur­su­ing her dream of be­com­ing a dent­al as­sist­ant, my par­ents from ac­quir­ing drivers’ li­censes, and it al­most kept an­oth­er one of my sis­ters and my broth­er, from at­tend­ing the uni­versity of their dreams, the Uni­versity of Texas at Aus­tin.

My eld­est sis­ter was denied from the col­leges she ap­plied to simply be­cause she could not provide the So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber they asked for. After much more hard work and per­sist­ence from my broth­er and oth­er sis­ter, they have been ac­cep­ted to the Uni­versity of Texas at Aus­tin.

Al­though De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (DACA) has greatly helped my fam­ily, we still live in con­stant fear that our par­ents could be de­por­ted at any mo­ment, and DACA is only a short-term solu­tion.

What my fam­ily, and thou­sands of oth­er fam­il­ies, need is just im­mig­ra­tion re­form that provides a roadmap to cit­izen­ship for all 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants and not just a piece­meal solu­tion. We need im­mig­ra­tion re­form that takes in­to ac­count the unique needs of young wo­men and chil­dren and that keeps fam­il­ies to­geth­er.

With com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, not only will my dream of be­com­ing a doc­tor come true, but also, my eld­est sis­ter can pur­sue her dream of be­com­ing a dent­al as­sist­ant. My par­ents will be able to drive safely and leg­ally without the fear of be­ing sep­ar­ated from my sib­lings and I; they will be able to leg­ally work and provide for our fam­ily without the fear of sud­den de­port­a­tion in their work­place. Fur­ther­more, my little sis­ter will no longer live in fear of be­ing left alone if her whole fam­ily were to be de­por­ted.

This is my wish for the hol­i­days and it rep­res­ents the wishes of thou­sands of oth­ers across the coun­try. But I know ex­actly who has denied this wish in 2013, and we are here to tell House Re­pub­lic­ans that WE WON’T BE DENIED. I speak for thou­sands of oth­er young people when I say that I hope that you gain the cour­age to stand up for my fam­ily and oth­ers in 2014.

Sin­cerely, Berenice Ramirez

Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email us. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

Contributions by Jody Brannon

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