Urban studies senior Raul Zamora may not graduate in 2012 after a broken taillight led UT police to discover his undocumented immigrant status.
Zamora is facing a deportation battle that began on Nov. 6, 2009, when UT Police Department officers pulled him over on Robert Dedman Drive. More than 18 months later, he continues to fight with his deportation hearing rapidly approaching.
After talking to him and running his information in a database, the officers arrested Zamora, who had several outstanding warrants for traffic violations, and he was taken to the Travis County Jail where he stayed for three days.
Zamora said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained him as an illegal immigrant after they questioned him at the Travis County Jail.
Federal agents transported Zamora to the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall, Texas, where he stayed for four days. While there, Zamora says he decided to fight against his deportation orders.
UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom said campus police do not inquire about the immigration status of the people they pull over.
“This campus has a lot of students that are from different parts of the world, and we do not stop people for that reason, nor do we know that when we stop them,” he said.
According to Zamora, he and his parents entered the United States from Mexico in 2000 with visitor’s visas. He was 10 years old. His family stayed after the visas expired.
Zamora said he was disappointed by UTPD officers’ treatment of him and in their decision to arrest him — even after he told them he would be deported if they did so.
“He didn’t read me my Miranda rights and kept insisting that they were just taking me to jail to pay my ticket even though I told them ICE was going to get there and try to deport me,” Zamora said.
Dahlstrom said ICE officials are often stationed at jails to check the immigration status of those who get booked — which is exactly what happened to Zamora.
“Officers on the street do not force immigration laws, but immigration officials have every right to check on people that are arrested,” he said. “Had he paid for the tickets beforehand, he would not have been arrested, and this would not have happened.”
Zamora had two hearings last year, but both were postponed because of technicalities on court documents. He will have another meeting before a deportation judge in San Antonio on May 26, and he said he hopes to postpone that, too.
Zamora plans to register for the fall semester soon and said he hopes he will be able to graduate before being deported.
“I’ve been here in Austin since I was 10,” Zamora said. “I’ve been wanting to go to UT since I heard about it. And now they are going to take this away from me?”
Father Jayme Mathias, pastor at Cristo Rey Catholic Church, is helping Zamora collect letters of recommendation and documentation of past achievements to prepare for his next deportation hearing.
“For those who are not deported, a lot of it comes down to their character,” Mathias said. “I have known Raul since he was a freshman in high school. A person who has such great potential and who has committed no real crime should be allowed to stay.”
Mathias said he has seen this situation many times before as the pastor of an undocumented community and that he is saddened that young people with no connection to their home country are deported. About 200 undocumented students attended UT in the 2009-10 school year, according to the Office of Admissions.
On campus, the University Leadership Initiative focuses on supporting the DREAM Act so undocumented UT students can be productive Americans after graduating, said Loren Campos, president of the group.
The DREAM, or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, was a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to gain conditional permanent residency after attending college or serving in the military for two years.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in December 2010, but it failed to pass the Senate after a Republican-led filibuster stalled the legislation.
Campos said the organization creates online petitions asking the general public to voice their support of students in Zamora’s situation and by contacting officials who can stop their deportation.
“We get all the information about what happened in their case and put it online,” Campos said. “We ask anyone in general to send faxes, send emails and make phone calls. Most cases have been successful in that these students’ deportation status has been deferred.”