About a dozen Dreamers in Arizona sat around a table in Phoenix last week to share their stories of struggle as well as their dreams and aspirations.
A few of them spoke about their fear of being separated from their families. One spoke about her desire to continue her education and another about his dream of serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Actor Jeremy Ray Valdez was there to hear their stories. He told them, “I want to tell your story, and I want to get the message out about what Dreamers are going through.”
Valdez is doing just that, through the independent film called “Dreamer” that was completed last month.
Jeremy Ray Valdez highlights the struggles Dreamers face
In the film, he plays the role of Joe Rodriguez, an undocumented young immigrant who is raised by a white family after his mother goes back to Mexico.
Joe goes on to attend the University of Texas, where he excels and earns a bachelor’s degree in accounting, as did Valdez from the University of Arizona. He then begins to work for an accounting firm but is forced to leave the job when his employer finds out he is undocumented.
“The story really begins there, and it tells the story about his struggle of being a Dreamer, the things he goes through and the fear that he lives in from day to day,” Valdez told VOXXI.
When asked what he hopes people will take away from the film, he said “the humanity of the Dreamer, of the undocumented immigrant.”
“I want to show what they go through from day to day,” he said. “I want to show that they are human beings who want a better life, and that’s why they’re here.”
Valdez, who is of Spanish and Native American ancestry, was born in Santa Fe, N.M., and grew up in Arizona. He confessed that he wasn’t fully aware of what Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are facing until he heard their stories as he prepared for this “Dreamer” film.
“I was ignorant to what was going on in our country, but I did more research … and that opened up my eyes,” he told VOXXI.
Now, Jeremy Ray Valdez travels around the country promoting the film and meeting with Dreamers to hear their stories, like he did in Phoenix.
Film inspired by the failure to pass the DREAM Act
The idea for “Dreamer” emerged after filmmaker Jesse Salmeron saw the heartbreak Dreamers felt when the DREAM Act, a bill that would’ve given undocumented youth a chance to become U.S. citizens, died in the Senate in December 2010.
Salmeron sat down to write the film the following month.
Valdez said the Dreamers’ struggles are “near and dear” to Salmeron, especially because he himself was undocumented at one point and he grew up surrounded by undocumented families in Texas.
Salmeron and his family immigrated illegally into the United States from El Salvador when he was 3 years old. Eventually, they were given refugee status because they were fleeing the Salvadorian civil war.
Salmeron asked Jeremy Ray Valdez to play the role of Joe after seeing Valdez play the leading role of a gay young man in “La Mission.” That 2009 film is about an ex-convict and recovering alcoholic whose path to redemption is tested when he discovers his son is gay.
Valdez said he told Salmeron he would star in the “Dreamer” film but only if he could help produce it.
“I read the script, and I thought it was timely,” he told VOXXI about why he became interested in the film. “I thought that the story is happening in pretty much every city in the United States.”
Completing the ‘Dreamer’ film wasn’t easy for Jeremy Ray Valdez and Jesse Salmeron
The road to making the “Dreamer” film a reality was long and sometimes disappointing.
Salmeron and Valdez began to shop the script around for funding in 2011 but were turned away by several potential funders who claimed that Latinos didn’t want to see their “soft stories” told on the big screen. Struggling to come up with money to produce the film, they started an online Kickstarter campaign through which they raised more than $50,000 in 30 days.
“The campaign, for the most part, was pushed to success by the Dreamer community themselves, desperate to hear their story told,” Salmeron wrote in a blog post in March.
Valdez said they then took the $50,000 to producers who had rejected the film to show them that there were people who wanted to see the film.
“We raised that money because people believe in the DREAM Act and in immigration reform,” Valdez said.
They eventually got enough funding from producers to complete the “Dreamer” film. It premiered in March at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif., selling out two 650-seat theaters.
It also screened at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. on April 10. That same day, thousands of pro-immigration reform advocates rallied outside the U.S. Capitol building and the “The Dream is Now” documentary, also about Dreamers, premiered. The “Dreamer” film was also shown April 10 at the Hispanicize Festival in Miami.
Valdez said more screenings will be announced on the film’s website in the next few weeks.
Originally published on VOXXI as In ‘Dreamer’, Jeremy Ray Valdez showcases Dreamers’ struggles
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No Age Cap For DREAMers
<a href="http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=b0a97f73-03ff-40a3-9910-45286495cf42" target="_blank"></a>Immigration rights activists are cheering the Gang of 8's decision to include the provisions of the DREAM Act in the immigration bill without including an age cap. Incidentally, that means that journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who didn't qualify for deferred action, would qualify for a path to citizenship if the new legislation were to pass as currently written. The DREAM Act, as written in the new bill, allows most immigrants who arrived in the United States under age 16 to adjust their immigration status and then apply for naturalization if they have clean criminal records and attend college or serve in the military. <em>IMAGE: FILE - In this file photo taken, Aug. 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signs the Illinois Dream Act into law surrounded by students and supporters of the bill. After keeping a low public profile leading up to the 2012 November election, Quinn now faces one of the most critical times of his tenure where his every move will be scrutinized by Republicans whove said the 2014 governors race is their top priority after devastating losses to the party last week.(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)</em>
Allows Deportees To Reunite With Families
The bill allows <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/immigration-bill-deportation_n_3091272.html" target="_blank">some deportees to return to reunite with their families</a>, a measure that could potentially reunite thousands of undocumented immigrants with their family members in the United States. <em>IMAGE: LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Mitzi Pena, 19, (C) her mother Vlamca Pena (R) her sister Yaretzi Pena, 5, and her cousin Karina Terriquez, 20, (L) wait in line with hundreds of fellow undocumented immigrants at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles offices to apply for deportation reprieve on August 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Under a new program established by the Obama administration undocumented youth who qualify for the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can file applications from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website to avoid deportation and obtain the right to work (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)</em>
Has A Path To Citizenship
Most undocumented immigrants without criminal records would be able to work legally in the United States within six months, after paying a $500 penalty and back taxes, if owed. After 10 years, they could apply for a green card and after another three years, they could apply for citizenship. <em>IMAGE: WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Immigration activists gather on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for an All In for Citizenship rally April 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Tens of thousands of reform supporters gathered for the rally to call on Congress to act on proposals that would grant a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million of the nation's illegal immigrants. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)</em>
Pathway To Citizenship Contingent Upon "Triggers"
Before undocumented immigrants can solicit legal permanent residency, however, the bill requires the federal government to demonstrate that it has taken steps to boost border security. <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite=&ocid=msnhp&pos=9&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">The "triggers" aren't based on a hard-and-fast metric</a>, but rather require the federal government to submit a plan to ramp up border security and show it to be operational. <em>IMAGE: FILE - The unmanned Predator B taxis back to the hangar in El Mirage, Calif., in this Sept. 6, 2001 file photo, after a test flight over the Mojave Desert. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the expansion of unmanned aircraft flights Wednesday June 23, 2010 to patrol the entire Texas-Mexico border. The Predator B to be used in the patrols can fly for 20 hours without refueling, compared with a helicopter's average flight time of just over two hours. (AP Photo/Doug Benc, File)</em>
Adds New, Merit-Based Visa For High- And Low-Skilled Workers
Those wanting to enter the United States from foreign countries will have to go through a <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite" target="_blank">merit-based evaluation to receive their visa</a>. The bill <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/senate-immigration-bill-includes-new-start-up-visa-lifts-cap-on-highly-skilled-workers/2013/04/16/18bb40c0-a6d7-11e2-8302-3c7e0ea97057_story.html" target="_blank">also includes a new start-up visa for foreign entrepreneurs and a boost</a> for H1-B visas for skilled workers. <em>IMAGE: ANNANDALE, VA - APRIL 28: Arnoldo Borja (L), a community organizer of Virginia Justice Center, talks on his cellular phone on Little River Turnpike where Latino day laborers wait for construction and landscaping jobs April 28, 2006 in Annandale, Virginia. Borja, an immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1989 from Mexico, visits the site every morning to mediate between day laborers, police and local businessmen to help solving any upcoming problems. Fairfax County government is looking currently for a location to create a new official day labor site, and Borja hopes the new center will serve laborers from all over the world and will provide English and Spanish language classes and job training. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) </em>
Pours Billions Into Border Enforcement
The Congressional Budget Office hasn't assess the bill yet, but <a href="http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/16/17783040-seven-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-immigration-bill?lite=&ocid=msnhp&pos=9&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter" target="_blank">NBC News puts the bill's cost around $17 billion</a>, mostly related to security. The new bill would focus the federal government's efforts on "high-risk" areas where the border is porous, like stretches of the Arizona desert. The bill sets of a target of stopping <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/16/us-usa-immigration-congress-idUSBRE93F05520130416" target="_blank">90 percent of illegal crossings</a>. <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/15-companies-profit-border-security/story?id=18957304#.UW7GDyuSi5w" target="_blank">ABC/Univision compiled a list of 15 companies</a> that profit from border security. <em>IMAGE: A fence runs along the US-Mexico border between the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro ports of entry in and near San Diego, California, across from Tijuana, Mexico (L). The barrier seperating the two countries known to many as the 'border fence' or the 'border wall' is in reality several barriers, designed to prevent illegal movement across the border, backed by supporters and criticized by opponents. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
It's not clear what the system will look like yet, but the bill orders the federal government to design and implement an employment verification system. <em>IMAGE: FILE In this file photo taken April 27, 2009, Latino workers till an asparagus field near Toppenish, Wash., on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Bringing unlikely allies together, a measure being backed by both farmers and immigrant advocacy groups is hoping to slow down the use of a federal immigration program that check's a workers eligibility to work in the U.S. Known as E-Verify, the program has been adopted by 11 cities in Washington state. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)</em>