Benita Veliz has a DREAM, Sort of…

Benita Veliz has everything a young girl on the rise could want, starting with a killer resume. She was only 16 when she was named the valedictorian of her class at San Antonio’s Jefferson High School. She then earned a full scholarship to St. Mary’s University, one of South Texas’ most prestigious schools, where she double majored in biology and sociology. In college, she was involved in student government. She sang in the school choir. She volunteered at a local children’s hospital. She fostered dreams of going to law school and entering politics. And she did all of that while working full time as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant.

Kind of sounds like the Generation Y answer to Sonia Sotomayor, doesn’t she?

Well, hold up a sec. There’s a problem.

You see, Benita Veliz is an illegal immigrant, and according to the law, she has no business being in this country.

Kind of puts a damper on things, doesn’t it?

Well, the situation isn’t her fault. She came to the U.S. at the age of 8. Her parents arrived on a tourist visa and they simply never left. Since then, Benita Veliz has had to come to terms with the hard facts of her illegal status. She can’t qualify for a Social Security card. She can’t get a driver’s license. And, like millions of other illegal immigrants, she has had to live with the constant fear of deportation.

All of those hard facts surfaced after Benita Veliz ran a stop sign in Helotes, a small town northwest of San Antonio, on January 21, 2009. She was stopped by a patrol officer. The officer, acting exactly as he is required to do, contacted immigration authorities. Her illegal status was verified and she was jailed overnight.

And this is where the dream of living in the U.S. ends for many illegal immigrants. Arrest. Jail. A bus ride back across the border.

Which means that Benita Veliz is not alone.

Nearly 65,000 second generation illegal immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Many of these graduates speak Spanish as a second language. For them, as for Benita Veliz, the idea of going back to Mexico is as terrifying as exile to the Moon. They know no one in Mexico. They don’t know the culture, the laws…in short, they don’t know how to survive.

Deportation is practically a death sentence.

It certainly represents the end of their lives as they know them.

But there is hope looming on the horizon for at least a few of those second generation illegal immigrants in the form of the DREAM Act. Simply put, the DREAM Act is a congressional bill that makes it possible for folks like Benita Veliz to earn her citizenship by serving in the military or by going to college. In a rare example of common sense, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle got together and acknowledged that there are quite a few young people living in this country illegally through no fault of their own. There ought to be some way, they reasoned, to assimilate those young people who have been in the country more than ten years and have demonstrated the desire to excel.

Makes sense, right?

Most people seem to think so. The DREAM Act has gotten very little serious opposition. And with a sympathetic president in the White House, the DREAM Act has an excellent chance of becoming a law.

Unfortunately, it may come too late to help Benita Veliz. The DREAM Act was introduced in mid-March of this year, barely two months after Ms. Veliz’s arrest. Recently a federal immigration judge granted her a three month continuance, which means she can remain here, pulling for the DREAM Act.

Of course, even if the DREAM Act passes in time, it may not help Benita Veliz. You see, none of her family can legally petition for her to stay, because they too are illegal immigrants. The situation seems dire, and even her own lawyers are doubtful about the outcome.

But here’s the rub. Benita Veliz is really only one victim in a much larger tragedy. Stated in the simplest language possible, our immigration system is broken. It needs fixing, and it needs fixing now.

So what’s standing in the way?

Well, it’s a muddled mess of bureaucratic red tape, for one thing. For another, illegal immigrants lack a grassroots support system to give them a unified front. If there was an advocate, somebody to rally behind, somebody to give the cause a unified voice, that person might be able to open doors for meaningful immigration reform. The first step would be to simply the process of living and working in America. Worker visas are a great start. So too is the DREAM Act. The second, and more difficult step, would be to overcome the inculcated sense of fear illegal immigrants have of American authority, such as the police and immigration agents. The latter can only be achieved through some sort of advocate–whether that is an individual or a group I don’t think it matters.

But there is a larger problem than confusing policies and a lack of representation: namely, from a financial standpoint, we have little incentive to change the immigration laws. People need a damn good reason to bring about a fundamental restructuring of their laws. They’re not going to step away from the comfortably warm glow of complacency out of the goodness of their hearts. Right now, about the only thing an illegal immigrant can look forward to in exchange for going through all the red tape of becoming a citizen is the privilege of paying taxes–and let’s face it, that ain’t much of an incentive. (People like Benita Veliz–who does pay taxes, by the way, thanks to an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number–are rare.)

Furthermore, those of us here in the country legally enjoy a financial benefit from hiring illegal immigrants. Those illegals are basically a thinly disguised slave labor caste, working at back-breaking and mind-numbing jobs for pennies on the dollar. We don’t like to talk about it, but even those of us who are deeply offended by injustice are still happy to have our roofs repaired in the middle of summer and our septic tanks flushed and our favorite restaurant’s dishes washed as cheaply as possible.

Right now, there is no serious incentive to fix our broken system because we have not addressed the fundamental issue of money. Bipartisan efforts such as the DREAM Act are great, but they still fail to give people a financial incentive to change the status quo. And until we do that, until people have a real benefit in becoming U.S. citizens, until we start punishing companies for exploiting America’s modern slave population, our immigration problems will continue.

New Poem!

Those of you who visit often know I don’t usually post poems here, but I thought I’d make an exception this time. This is my latest poem, “Downhill Push,” offered up for your reading pleasure. Hope you enjoy!

He has fourteen warrants for his arrest,
But the cops won’t touch him.
Hepatitis, they say,
And all those open sores.
And I’ve got kids at home, you know?
Why risk that just to book some homeless guy
For panhandling?
He’ll be out again before the ink is dry.

Which you understand,
In a way.
But all the understanding in the world
Does no good at the stop light you realize now
You should have tried to beat,
Because it’s too late to roll up the window
Without feeling like a heel.
You went to college.
You went to church,
As a kid.
And you’re thinking of going back,
With your own kids.
The poor will be with you always
And all that jazz.
You know the drill, the camel,
The eye of the needle.
The rich man.
God loves charity.
But right now charity smells like piss and bad funk
With a dirty palm stuck through your open window
And a pin prick star cluster against a night sky bruise patch inside his elbow
From the heroin.
You realize it’s a nice metaphor—
Camels and needles and rich men—
Just not here, in the real world.

It wasn’t like this, sixteen years ago,
When you were hired.
A cash stipend for covered parking down the block
Isn’t much when you have to thread this needle
Of bearded bums and winos
Pissing on the sidewalk
Just to get to work.
They’re everywhere.
Downtown looks like the apocalypse.
The homeless the living dead.
And that one over there, up in the grass by the bushes,
Past the two pretty secretaries
In knee-length dresses and white tennis shoes,
Might actually be dead.
You wonder if anyone else has noticed.

They used to run to the door when you came home,
When they were little, yelling
Mommy Mommy Mommy.
There were hugs.
Now you wonder if they even know you’re here
The TV’s so loud.
A shaft of afternoon light fills the entryway
You are golden in the dust motes.
Then you see the laundry, smell the stale, lived in years.
You feel so tired walking in the door.
Your husband comes from the kitchen,
Nods hello.
Did you mow the lawn in those clothes, you ask.
You don’t know your lip is curled in disgust
But it’s plain on your face.
And now, on his, the tired empty passionless anger.
Seriously, he says,
You want to start this now?
On the floor the boys roll their eyes. Their hair
Looks like birds live there.
They have heard all this before. You stop to consider
Their clothes, and this house, and that man over there who’s really let himself go;
You are sliding downhill, into soulsick exhaustion,
Unable to stop the drop.
Things used to be so easy, things
Used to rise on their own.

In the early morning, before sunrise,
Ambien dreams fade slowly,
Leave you with the slow intractable resistance of a hangover.
The car rolls backwards to the street.
In the mirror, a face–so worn–not the one you remember,
Wonders if the mind doesn’t actually create reality
By pushing what’s inside out.

Report from ArmadilloCon 2009

ArmadilloCon 2009 has come and gone…and what a time it was! The folks at ArmadilloCon have really figured out how to do it right. The hotel was great (love those DoubleTree chocolate chip cookies!), the guests were fantastic, and the panels were top notch. Plus, I got the added thrill of introducing my wife to her first convention and I think ArmadilloCon sold her on how much fun they are.

Here were some of the highlights:

The Meet the Pros party opening night. I got to hang out with John Picacio, Sanford Allen, Lee Thomas, Gabrielle Faust, Matt Cardin, Scott Cupp, Chris Roberson, Mario Acevedo, Jeanne Stein, A. Lee Martinez, and a host of others. We got a surprise visit from Michael Moorcock, who presented the Jack Trevor Prize to Howard Waldrop. Good times and good booze all around!

Later I went to hear Matt Cardin read his short story “The Devil and One Lump” and was blown away. I’m now a fan.

I closed out opening night with a panel called “What Happened to the Monsters?” Jeanne Stein did a great job moderating this one. And, as usual, Lee Thomas and Matt Cardin brought some intellectual heavy lumber to this one. The conversation ranged from Aztec snake demons to zombies and we had some great audience participation.

Saturday morning started with Lee Thomas reading his short story “I Am Your Violence.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading a Lee Thomas short story you need to stop reading this and get busy. The guy is absolutely brilliant! Go out and get a copy of Unspeakable Horrors or Inferno or, better yet, his upcoming collection Out of the Closet, Under the Bed.

After lunch I sat on a panel called “Zombies!” moderated by A. Lee Martinez. Lee Thomas was on that one as well. A. Lee Martinez and Lee Thomas basically had me bookended on the critical side, leaving me in the middle to defend my beloved walking dead. Luckily, I had some timely help from the audience in the form of Rhiannon Frater. This was probably the highlight of the convention events for me. A. Lee Martinez and Lee Thomas brought up some really great points and kept me on my toes. I think the audience enjoyed this one as well. For the rest of the convention people kept telling me how much they enjoyed it.

Later that night I made the rounds to all the parties up on the sixth floor. I got to hang out with Mario Acevedo and John Picacio and Sanford Allen. I have no idea what time I finally turned in, but I think the sun was coming up.

The next morning I got some breakfast and then headed over to hear Jeanne Stein read from her latest book. Damn, that woman can write. Great plotting, great characters, great all the way around.

After that, it was my turn to read. I did a selection from Quarantined and had a pretty good crowd. I don’t think I put anybody to sleep.

A. Lee Martinez got up to read next. He gave us a selection from his new book Monster, which caused me to laugh away my hangover. I know a lot of funny people, but A. Lee Martinez just takes the cake. I can’t recommend him enough.

I finished off the convention with a long stay in the dealer’s room, where I signed a bunch of books and bought even more. I picked up a copy of Terry Bisson’s Planet of Mystery, Joe Hill’s Gunpowder, and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Situation. But the real find was a hardback first edition of Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor. And I even got him to sign it! Very cool!

Thanks ArmadilloCon for showing me a great time!

Joe Hill Added as Guest of Honor to World Horror Convention 2011

August 14, 2009

For immediate Release


Lee Thomas
Nate Southard


Austin – August 14: The World Horror Convention 2011 is proud to announce the addition of Award Winning and Bestselling author Joe Hill to the lineup of special author guests. The international conference of horror’s premier talents and their fans will take place in Austin, Texas from April 28th through May 1st, 2011.

“Our goal with this convention is to highlight the brightest new stars of dark fiction, the writers and artists who are helping the genre grow,” said convention chair Nate Southard. “Joe Hill’s name is at the top of that list.”

Hill burst onto the literary scene with his first book, the limited edition collection 20th Century Ghosts, which showcased fourteen of his short stories and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, in addition to the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story for “Best New Horror.” William Morrow/HarperCollins published Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, in 2007. The novel went on to reach number 8 on the New York Times bestseller list and garnered high critical praise. Hill is also the author of Locke & Key, a successful graphic novel series published by IDW Publishing. His next novel, Horns, is due February 2010 from William Morrow.

Hill joins award-winning authors Sarah Langan, Joe R. Lansdale, and Brian Keene on the WHC 2011 guest list. Additional Guests of Honor will be announced in the months to come. A website featuring convention and hotel information, registration, and more is live at

The World Horror Convention is an annual gathering of professionals in the horror industry: publishers, authors, artists, musicians, filmmakers, dealers and, of course, horror fans. WHC serves as both an industry insider’s networking event and a chance for fans of the genre to get together, meet some of the creative talents in the field, and generally spend a weekend celebrating All Things Scary.

Visit our guests at:
Joe Hill:
Sarah Langan:
Joe R. Lansdale:
Brian Keene:

For more information please contact Nate Southard at or Lee Thomas at

My Itinerary for ArmadilloCon 31

Itinerary for ArmadilloCon 31

I’m gearing up for this year’s ArmadilloCon 31 in Austin. Opening ceremonies kick of on Friday, August 14, 2009 at 4:00 pm and the fun will continue till we close the place down on Sunday, August 16, 2009. Guests this year include A. Lee Martinez, Joe R. Lansdale, John Picacio, Scott Cupp, Mario Acevedo, Rick Klaw, Steven Wedel, Lee Thomas, Bill Crider, Chris Roberson, Gabrielle Faust, Elizabeth Moon, and many others.

Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Friday, August 14, 2009

4:00 pm – Welcome to ArmadilloCon 31 in the deWitt Room.

7:00 pm – Opening Ceremonies in the Phoenix Central Room.

10:00 pm – A panel called “What Happened to the Monsters?” in the Phoenix Central Room with Lee Thomas, D.L. Smith, J. Stein, and Steve Wedel. Steve Wedel will be moderating and one of our guiding questions will be “Is it harder to create horror now that most of the traditional monsters are used by everyone?”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

12:00 pm – A panel called “Back to the Moon” in the De Zavala Room with J. Gibbons, A. Jackson, K. Murphy, B. Mahoney, and W. Ledbetter. J. Gibbons will be moderating and one of our guiding questions will be “Can We Stay There?”

2:00 pm – A panel called “Zombies!” in the De Witt Room with A. Lee Martinez, Lee Thomas, P. Wells, Mario Acevedo, and M. Williams. A. Lee Martinez will be moderating and one of our guiding questions will be “The Harlequin Romance of Horror?” I have no idea what that question means, but I guarantee you we are going to take this panel to town.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

10:30 am – I will be reading selections from my latest novel, Quarantined, in the Robertson Room. I’ll also be doing a question and answer session after the reading on incorporating police procedural information into your fiction.

12:00 pm – I will be signing autographs and posing for photos in the Dealer’s Room.

There are still tickets available. Go by the website

or come by the hotel:

Doubletree Hotel Austin
6505 IH 35 North
Austin, TX 78752-4346
(512) 454-3737

Hope to see you all there!

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