Yesterday at the Center for American Progress, Sam Fulwood III introduced us to an young immigrant’s story that’s all too familiar, but with a ray of hope. Mario Perez is a 22-year-old college student in Nacogdoches, Texas, who came to the United States with his family as a five-year-old, and who didn’t find out about his own undocumented status until he was a high school senior. Engaged to his girlfriend and on his way to engineering grad school, Mario’s world came crashing down with a single routine police stop in December of last year. The difference between Mario and any other undocumented college kid? He turned to his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha – the nation’s oldest black Greek-letter fraternity.
Alpha Phi Alpha doesn’t play any zero-sum games with racial equality; in addition to rallying for the DREAM Act, the fraternity also moved their summer convention from Arizona to Nevada in the wake of SB 1070. As Fulwood, an Alpha Phi Alpha alumn who learned about the story through Facebook appeals from the national office, writes:
Despite the anti-immigration rhetoric spewed by conservatives seeking to drive a wedge among minority groups, African Americans and Latino immigrants often share a common appreciation for fairness in the administration of federal law. Such was the example in Perez’s case as immediately after his arrest, word raced across the country on the Alphas’ grapevine and brothers responded to offer him help. His Iota Mu chapter brothers contacted an alumni chapter in Houston, which raised the $1,500 needed to release Perez from jail. Another member of the fraternity found a lawyer to represent him pro bono. “I love the brothers,” Perez said, noting he joined the fraternity in spring 2009.
Jacob Monty, a Houston attorney who specializes in immigration cases, said that as he considered taking Perez’s case, about 20 Alphas showed up at his office in a show of support for Perez. “His biggest supporters are African Americans,” Monty said during a phone interview. “If you listen to the debate on immigration, especially from the voices on the conservative side, you wouldn’t know that these African Americans are in favor of the DREAM Act, and that they don’t fear losing jobs or anything to people like Mario.”
Lawrence C. Ross, another proud member of the frat, points out at the Grio that Mario’s status put financial aid out of reach, meaning his parents paid $40,000 out of pocket in tuition fees to the state college – so much for the idea that undocumented immigrants don’t pay into the system. And Susan Carroll at the Houston Chronicle writes:
Laterrious Starks, then the fraternity president, made phone call after phone call trying to find out what happened to Perez, and how they could help stop his deportation. … Marcell Owens, a 23-year-old graduate student in communications and fellow fraternity member, said he was shocked to learn Perez was in the country illegally when he joined the fraternity, mainly because Perez didn’t fit with the stereotypical image of an illegal immigrant portrayed by the media.
“It didn’t change my opinion of him. I know the situation was beyond his control. The foundation of our fraternity is brotherhood. I have a twin brother, and there is nothing I would do for my brother that I wouldn’t do for Mario. I wouldn’t judge him or belittle him in any form.”
This isn’t a happy story, by any means, and nothing is guaranteed for Mario as he awaits a judge’s verdict. But it’s good to know that young people of color are listening to their hearts instead of their politicians when deciding who to fight for.