Photo: Undocumented Student Mario Perez
During a routine traffic stop, an undocumented student was arrested and taken to jail, but his fraternity brothers would not stand for it, and came out in force in support of their brother.
Mario Perez is a 22-year-old mathematics and statistics major on track to graduate from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He is also a member of Iota Mu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
Not until applying for college did Perez even know he was not in the country legally. While filling out applications, he asked for his Social Security number, and that’s when his parents told him the truth. He didn’t have one.
However, in Texas, anyone that graduates from a Texas high school can attend a state college, so Perez headed to Stephen F. Austin. Without a Social Security number though, financial aid was not an option, so his parents paid more than $40,000 in tuition fees.
Flash forward to April 2010, after being taken to jail, Perez received a phone call. It was an immigration official telling him he was now facing deportation to a country he doesn’t even know. Hearing the words, Perez said his “brain went numb.” Not knowing who else he could turn to, he leaned on his brothers for help, and quickly, they leapt into action. Not only did they reach out to alums to raise and post Perez’s $1,500 bail, they found him Jacob Monty, a lawyer specializing in immigration cases.
“Our firm was contacted by some alumni of his fraternity, and I was honestly shocked to see a dozen African-American men in my office working on behalf of a Hispanic kid,” Monty said. “I was moved when they told me that Mario was a brother and they weren’t going to let their brother down. That’s when I decided to take the case pro bono.
“I think this was particularly moving because there are many politicians who are dismissive of the DREAM Act by saying that it somehow hurts African-Americans and American born Hispanics.”
Perez’s brothers at Alpha Phi, the nation’s oldest black Greek-letter fraternity, have been strong supporters of the estimated 65,000 undocumented youth coming out of the shadows. Last year, in protest of Arizona’s SB 1070, Alpha Phi moved their summer convention from Phoenix to Las Vegas.
Describing his moral character, Monty pointed out that Perez “could have gotten married to his girlfriend or he could have gotten her pregnant and become eligible to get a green card that would allow him to stay here legally, but he didn’t believe that was right. He thinks you should finish your education before you get married or start a family. He was trying to do the right thing and he’s being prosecuted for it.”
And while Perez has a tough battle ahead of him, his case blasted the perception that many have tried so hard to create. As Alpha Phi Alpha alumnus put it, “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 … Such was the example in Perez’s case…”