The violence onscreen became real life for those victims of the horrific mass shooting at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado back in July 2012. And for one of the wounded, the terror of the event extended beyond being injured.
As 18-year-old Alejandra Lamas lay bleeding from a gunshot wound, she worried that if she accepted medical attention, someone would discover her immigration status and if so, if she and her family would be deported. For weeks as Lamas recovered, she was afraid that the media attention to the shooting — in which 12 people died, including Alejandra’s friend, A.J. Boik — would reveal that she had been brought to this country illegally as a child.
Lamas knew that just a month before the shootings, President Obama had issued a memo authorizing deferred action on immigration charges for people like her who had been in the country since they were kids. So she continued her physical therapy and decided to head to Colorado State University as planned, despite not knowing if she’d be able to work in this country after she graduated. “I knew that my options were really limited,” she told Laura Bond of Westword, “but I had a determination to go to school, regardless of what that would mean for me financially in the future.” She was, after all, going to be the first member of her family to attend college.
Lamas contacted immigration rights groups and lawyers she felt she could trust, and learned that she could qualify for a U Visa “for victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity,” according to the Homeland Security website. Because of the trauma her family suffered, her parents and younger sister qualified for visas too, which all of them received last year.
Denver playwright and director Antonio Mercado asked Lamas if he could include her story as the opening of his new production, “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (“Dreaming Without Borders”), which features dramatic monologues about people like Lamas who are waiting in the shadows for the long-deferred DREAM Act (which would allow for citizenship for people brought to this country as children) to be passed. Mercado told John Wenzel of the Denver Post that he found Lamas’s story striking because “she was trying to convince the paramedics not to take her to the hospital, despite the fact that she had been shot.” Lamas, who finally feels free to share her story, agreed to participate in the show.
Lamas, 20, is in her second year in college studying social work. She now pays lower tuition since last year, Colorado passed a law allowing for in-state tuition for non-citizens. “Before all this happened, I was so caught up in being ashamed of being an immigrant,” she told Bond. But now, “When I go out now, people ask me, ‘Can I see your ID?’ I’m like, ‘Why, yes, you can!” Hopefully when people learn of stories like Lamas’s, more will be convinced that the time for immigration reform is now.