Although Martinez was free to attend public school — a 30-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case guarantees access to public education for children no matter their immigration status — there was no English-as-a-second-language class. Still, she excelled at academics and coasted through high school.

"[But] I always felt like an outsider," she says. "I wasn't white enough for the white people. I wasn't Mexican enough for the Mexican people because I was in AP honors classes... I always had this identity crisis."

She hoped to go to college and work at the United Nations helping displaced people. She graduated with honors in 2004 and was accepted at North Carolina State University. Unlike some colleges that have systems to help undocumented immigrants, N.C. State could do little to assist Martinez with funding or securing an international student visa.

"Literally, my world came tumbling down," she says. She drifted into a haze of depression and community college.

"I was 22 when I first came out publicly and was like 'I'm undocumented,'" she says. "I was fucking tired of keeping this big secret... And I just wanted to say, 'I'm undocumented. What? What? This is me: Undocumented. Illegal. Right here.'"

In 2010, Martinez helped form the North Carolina Dream Team, a nonprofit activist group that was pushing the DREAM Act, legislation meant to help undocumented residents — those who grew up in the U.S. and are students or served in the military — stay in the country and work legally. Since 2001, numerous versions of the bill have been put up for votes, with little success. In 2010, it passed the U.S. House before getting struck down in the Senate.

Undeterred, Martinez linked up with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), an umbrella organization funded by donations that supports pockets of DREAM activists across the country. Over emails and conference calls and at meetings, one place kept coming up as a microcosm of how flawed the immigration system had become: Broward Transitional Center. Not only is it one of the few privately contracted detention facilities ICE has, but the nature of low-priority cases detained there seems to contradict orders given by President Obama and the head of ICE demanding the agency focus its resources on convicts and those who pose a threat to national security.

"What makes that place so horrible — it's not so much the food; it's not so much the beds — it's the fact that you're not told anything about your case," Martinez says. "You're at the mercy of Judge Rex Ford or your deportation officer or your attorney, which a lot of times turns out to be a useless cow."

Of the country's 59 immigration courts, 19 are located inside detention facilities, including the one at BTC. The Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review oversees all immigration courts, which operate as administrative tribunals independent of the federal court system.

Detainees are charged by the Department of Homeland Security not with crimes but with civil immigration offenses, usually under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Only 15 percent of detainees — many of whom are picked up and asked for proof of citizenship without having committed any crime or only minor traffic infractions — secure legal representation, according to a recent report from the Center for Migration Studies.

Advocates say that without proper counsel, detainees struggle to understand the legal proceedings and are often strong-armed into waiving the right to a hearing or agreeing to voluntary deportation. When they do get in line to appear before a judge, it typically takes months. The immigration system is hopelessly backlogged; 260 judges slogged through more than 300,000 cases in 2011, making the average removal case stretch 507 days, according to data from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Though cases can take years, in the end, detainees either stay or go. The attorneys who bring the charges — in immigration court, these aren't standard federal prosecutors but rather ICE attorneys working for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor — can drop the case and cancel removal orders if a person meets certain criteria, such as if they've been continuously present in the U.S. for ten years or if they can prove that deportation may "result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to his or her family."

Others may apply for asylum or petition to stay in the U.S. legally. Those who have been victims of crimes might be eligible for a U visa, though only 10,000 such visas can be issued each year.

Some detainees agree to voluntary deportation, meaning they pay for their way back and must leave the U.S. under a deadline. Others are unwillingly loaded onto either ICE aircraft or commercial flights and sent packing.

As they await their fate, some detainees are let out on bond (sometimes having to wear an ankle bracelet) and return for a hearing, but many are held at facilities like BTC. When Martinez was booked and went inside, she saw firsthand how all the statistics and rumors she'd heard translated into wasted tax dollars, fractured families, and total disregard for judicial norms.

On a broiling Saturday afternoon at the end of September, 17-year-old Jose Acosta, with his two brothers and father, stood in front of BTC holding signs that read "Let My Mom Out We Miss Her" and "We Are Unjustly Detained Here Please Help Us." A line of two dozen other protesters with signs snaked down the sidewalk.

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I know one of these people and he isn't some innocent little construction worker. He "rents" out other Hispanics taking $3 + off each hour that each works and keeps it for hisself plus using fraudulent insurance he pays to "work under" ....nice long as noone gets hurt... And do u think paying someone to pass you through the driver license process and not check your immigration status is okay??? It is illegal. Period. When I ... A US Citizen do ANYTHING with the government agencies I have to prove who I am or I don't get what I screw the pity party...this jerk even balked at the US Gov showing Pics of his ankle bracelet on his Facebook ...take your tail home if you don't like it!!!!!!


I really don't see the activist part of this. If you're here illegally, there are certain steps you have to go through to go back to where you came from. The offender (person(s) that broke the law/illegal immigrant; whatever you want to call them. Do not get a vote, say so about how our country handles the matter. If it's uncomfortable. Good. It isn't intended to be Club Med. or a vacation. It's intent to process, from start to finish is to deter repeat offenders. There is a process to enter this country LEGALLY. Just because it's been done by millions illegally doesn't mean it's the smart thing to continue to do so. Record numbers have been deported this year, and I expect that number is only going to continue to rise. The unfortunate collateral damage in all this are the children of illegal's born on American soil. Those "anchor babies" as they've been referred to, are US citizens. Their illegal parents, are not. Their parent's used them, essentially and now it's backfired on those that have been deported and their children placed in foster care. Something that should have been thought about had American put it's foot down.  Bottom line? Don't blame the USA. Take responsiblity for your own actions if you're one of the deported. Come here legally. It's been done. I know. Don't take the path of least resistance. You may not be the only people that suffer. Activists my @$$.  Abide by laws. Don't expect them bent to your whims. No one else does. 


Such abuses and policy solutions are highlighed in my book by an immigration judge:

My Trials: Inside America’s Deportation Factories  |

American Immigration Lawyers Association wrote: “With a cast of colorful characters and compelling tales, My Trials: What I Learned in Immigration Court is both a scathing indictment of a broken immigration system that sends vulnerable immigrants back to the perilous situations from which they fled, and a heartfelt call for a return to the values upon which our nation of immigrants was founded.”  VOICE magazine September-October issue

Paperback edition:

theunbegun 3 Like

So when Cubans enter the country illegally they're labeled as "refugees" but then the Mexicans, e.t.c enter the country illegally they're labeled as "illegal aliens".


You gotta love the double standard.



 The difference is there is no persecution in Mexico for your political views or religious and basically Mexico has all freedoms the US has , Cuba doesn't.


 @theunbegun I suggest you read some history before making such an asinine statement.  How can you compare the two?  Seriously? 

robinked 2 Like

These are Not 'Activists'....these are 2 people with an Agenda...An ILLEGAL Agenda...!!!--Why is the Lame Steam Media so enamoured with a Pack of ILLEGAL Invaders & completely Silent in regards to the Majority of Taxpaying, LawAbiding Citizens that are  constantly being Raped & Stolen from by these Invaders....???!!!!!!!!---There IS a Right Way to Immigrate to this Country....Millions have taken that Path & I suggest that these so-called 'activists' can spend their time more productively trying to Educate the ILLEGAL population as to the Right Way of doing things rather than constantly Demanding More Freebies from the Taxpayer AND Demanding that Latinas should get a Pass on ILLEGAL immigration........Sheesh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

shesays 1 Like

Great piece. Too bad there aren't any thought inducing arguments or enlightening comments, just racism. Laws don't equal morality and human rights are for all, not some. I am sorry, though, for all the American citizens waiting, hoping, wishing for a job in the arrid fields or in the shady corners of home depot and are unable to get one because of those damn undocumented immigrants. Especially the ones from Mexico- right cubanogm?

cubanogm 3 Like

What I just said was what Mexico did to me and the USA gave me asylum due to my political association that put me under a death sentence by a cruel and despotic Government.This 52 years ago but I never came illegally nor would I have done it.I have no compassion for illegal aliens specially from Mexico.Arrest them all illegal aliens and deport them asap.

ivxx 2 Like

 @cubanogm typical cuban racism, even if u weren't a "political refugee" you would've eventually fled, the only thing keeping u from being an illegal immigrant is the fact that you are cuban... and it's sad, because i'm cuban myself. But for too long i've sat by and listened to these racist "exiles" who immigrated to this country and openly took all the help they were offered in order to build a life for themselves. Now that they're established, they want to shut the door they walked through to anyone else trying to come through the same way. I hear my friend's fathers and grandfathers talk about people on welfare, forgetting they too were once on welfare. They too were once at the bottom, they too abandoned everything they knew for a chance to be happy and free. What job have you ever lost to an undocumented immigrant?


 @ivxx  @cubanogm I personally have never met any Cuban's that were racists. That's absurd. 

cubanogm 2 Like

Illegal aliens are criminals by just being here illegally.They are breaking USA immigration laws.So they should be arrested and deported.That is what every country in the world does and that includes Mexico and Colombia and Venezuela,etc,etc,etc....So the USA should do the same.It is the proper and fair thing to do for people that are citizens and need a job that now is being held by an illegal alien.It is jusr as simple as that.

sieandme 3 Like

"Undocumented and Unafraid,". And that is the problem. Our laws should be so strong and punishing, that they deter the illegal entry into our Country. I understand some feel we should have "OPEN" borders and just allow all those who wish to migrate here to do so freely. I don't understand those who feel persons who have entered our Country illegally should be rewarded a "Green Card". This is not how you deter one from entereing our Nation illegally. It is how you encourage it.

wigglwagon 3 Like

"The concept of due process is held dear as a central piece of the American justice system. Anyone prosecuted under the criminal code has the right to know the charges against him, to be tried in public by a jury of his peers, and to be appointed a lawyer if he cannot afford one."


Embezzlers are not allowed to keep on embezzling until their day in court. Why are criminal immigrants allowed to keep practicing their crimes? Just letting them out on bail is like leaving embezzlers on the job with access to steal even more. Illegal immigrants should have to await their day in court in their own country.



 @wigglwagon Seriously?  If you're here illegally and being detained by or held over for ICE, you damn well know what you're being charged with/held for.  No brainer.

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