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Latino in America: Chasing the Dream
Aired October 22, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST (voice-over): It's journey as old as this country -- the pursuit of the American dream. For some, it's a dream denied.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so hard to be stuck in a place where you know that people killed the father of your children.
O'BRIEN: For others, a dream achieved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this country, anything is possible.
O'BRIEN: There are 51 million Latinos in this country -- 51 million dreams.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely feel that I'm living my American dream.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a songwriter, I'm a record producer and I'm an artist manager.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I grew up, you know, in -- in a very poor family. I'm the first of my family to go to college.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I don't know if the American dream exists, to tell you the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vision of it is skewed a little bit.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think there are many obstacles, but it is attainable. This is a country where there is opportunity.
O'BRIEN: Latino In America: Chasing the Dream.
It often begins with a journey. A hint of desperation catches a glint of a dream and someone finds their way north. Cities were built that way. Miami is just one of them.
The journey of this 15-year-old girl has stalled. She lives in Miami, but she cannot leave these bare room with their buzzers and the bars. She wears pajamas in the middle of the day and studies in a school for transient students.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: And justice for all.
O'BRIEN: She eats boiled chicken because her stomach is in knots. Her face says it all. Her life is in limbo and she sees no way out. Her American dream has become a dream deferred.
(on camera): Do you feel far from everybody?
What does that feel like?
"MARTA": Sad. There's so much sentimentos and...
O'BRIEN: Do you feel like you're in jail?
(voice-over): She is confined in Boys Town Children's Village, one of 41 detention centers where the U.S. government holds immigrant children -- children who entered this country illegally all by themselves. Last year, 7,200 children were detained in shelters like this.
She came searching for her mother, who left her years ago -- a mother she can only dream of while playing with flash cards of the 50 American states. A U.S. judge has ordered her deported back to Central America.
We've agreed not to use her real name, so we'll call her "Marta." "Marta" is locked up at a center whose name was once synonymous with the rescue of child refugees -- a place where thousands of earlier child immigrants were welcomed with open arms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discontent spread through the Caribbean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: In the 1960s, thousands of Cubans fleeing communism transformed this sleepy town into a gateway to Latin America. They included 14,000 children. Their parents handed them over to the Catholic Church to take them to the United States until communism passed. They were called Pedro Pans -- Peter Pans -- because it was to be a brief adventure. Many ended up at Boys Town, just like "Marta." But back then, it was run at this summer camp deep in the Florida forest.
SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: It's very strange to be back.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Is it?
MARTINEZ: It is.
MARTINEZ: It's very emotional to be back.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Senator Mel Martinez was called Caida (ph) and spoke not a word of English when he arrived at age 15. MARTINEZ: You know, in a way this is really where my life in America began. And it was a time that I can remember maybe the saddest time in my life -- the most depressing that I've ever been.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Were you worried about yourself or were you worried about your parents?
MARTINEZ: I was worried about both.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Catholic Church provided food, lodging and a small allowance. The U.S. government provided visas.
MARTINEZ: They gave us some oatmeal, rice and cookies, which to this day are still my favorite cookies. And they gave us a small carton of milk, which -- it was really fascinating to have milk in a half pint sized carton.
O'BRIEN: On October 23rd, 1962, Martinez's 16th birthday, the Cuban missile crisis ended the promise that the children would be quickly reunited with their parents who were stuck back in Cuba.
MARTINEZ: I think after that, it was so clear that this was a bigger problem than just the Martinez family getting reunited, that this was now part of the cold war and it was going to be a long separation.
O'BRIEN: That separation was softened by America's warm embrace. The Cubans, even today, can get a visa and financial assistance once they set foot on U.S. soil.
Foster parents cared for Martinez until he was reunited with his parents. He became the first Cuban-American in the U.S. Senate.
MARTINEZ: It is really remarkable.
O'BRIEN (on camera): The most successful immigration story.
MARTINEZ: Probably. Probably so.
O'BRIEN: In a short period of time.
MARTINEZ: To think that in one generation, I could have gone to become a lawyer and then to have become a U.S. senator, I think is pretty remarkable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: cry.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Cry.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Today, Boys Town is still owned by Catholic Charities. But it's subcontracted to the federal government, which gave CNN an exclusive look inside. Where the Peter Pans were on an adventure, these children await their fate from a judge.
KAREN HUSTED, DIRECTOR, BOYS TOWN: This is one of the boys' farms.
O'BRIEN: Boys Town director Karen Husted.
HUSTED: This is very difficult for them because they have been apprehended. So...
O'BRIEN: They're traumatized?
HUSTED: They're traumatized.
Sometimes they come in handcuffs.
O'BRIEN: They come in handcuffs?
O'BRIEN: Even the little children come in handcuffs?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): There are 31 children of all ages detained at Boys Town on this day. We're not allowed to show their faces or identify their exact location. It looks a bit like a summer camp, except that among the day's activities, immigration court.
This boy crossed the border on one leg, hoping to get a new prosthetic in the United States. Boys Town succeeded in getting donors to help him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uno, dos, tres, cuatro.
O'BRIEN: This 4-year-old was caught crossing the border with his father. His father was sent to jail. Like any little boy, he just wants to play. He has no idea of the legal web he's caught in.
(on camera): Is it emotionally difficult?
HUSTED: Yes, yes.
HUSTED: Because the children are wonderful and you look at...
O'BRIEN: You fall in love with them?
HUSTED: You do. You have to. Well, you will before you leave here.
O'BRIEN: And you...
HUSTED: I guarantee it.
O'BRIEN: ...don't want to see them go back? HUSTED: No, no.
O'BRIEN: Does it sometimes seem unfair?
HUSTED: It always seems unfair.
O'BRIEN: It always seems unfair, because they struggle so hard to get here. But they don't consider poverty enough for somebody to stay here and a lot of the children are driven by poverty.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): When "Marta" was seven, her mother took off for the United States, leaving "Marta" and her siblings with their grandmother. "Marta" left at age 12 to try to join her. Her grandmother was dying of cancer. There was no one else to care for her. A smuggler helped her cross the Rio Grande in an inner tube.
(on camera): They put a float around you and you held on?
Can you swim?
Did you think you might drown?
"MARTA": I don't know. When I see they were (INAUDIBLE) and there's animals and all the things, yes, I'm scared.
O'BRIEN: How long did it take?
"MARTA": A few minutes.
O'BRIEN: Just a few minutes?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): She was later caught by Border Patrol, who placed her with a foster family near her mother. When she finally saw her mother, "Marta" barely recognized her.
"MARTA": I'm excited because I want to see my mom. But at the same time, when I see her, I was like, you're not my mom.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Who are you?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Living with her mother was full of tension. Her mother had a new 5-year-old daughter -- and a boyfriend.
"MARTA": I want to live with her, but not with her boyfriend, because he is not my dad, you know, and I have -- I had problems with him.
O'BRIEN: You didn't like him?
"MARTA": Unhh-hhh. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Still, "Marta" was able to go to school, learn English and make friends. Two years later, when she finally went to court, a judge ordered her deported. She was sent to Boys Town to await her fate.
O'BRIEN: "Marta's" days at Boys Town are long and lonely. She fears she'll be deported any day. CNN got an exclusive look at her life inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) aid what we have.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Papas (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Porque?
O'BRIEN: It's a federal shelter for children trapped in immigration limbo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourteen.
O'BRIEN: "Marta" came to America looking for her mother and a better life. She has neither, but she has food and shelter. Her schooling is limited and she fears she's falling behind in her studies.
"MARTA": I miss my classes, you know, because I learned something in different classes, like biology. I want to take English, too, for writing correct and speak correct -- and algebra. I like algebra so.
O'BRIEN: Michelle Abarca, a Latina of Nicaraguan descent, has volunteered to fight "Marta's" deportation. As a lawyer for the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Michelle is the only person on "Marta's" side.
MICHELLE ABARCA, ATTORNEY: They have a right to an attorney, but the government will not pay for an attorney. So if they don't have a pro-bono attorney, they have to go on their own, regardless of their age, and present their cases.
O'BRIEN (on camera): So you mean 5-year-olds are responsible for their case?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Michelle wants to file a petition in "Marta's" name asking the court to declare her abused, abandoned and neglected. "Marta" would be accusing her mother of being unfit because she failed to protect her from abuse. She wants the judge to understand that no one here can care for her and no one in her home country can take her back. Then, she might qualify for a visa to stay in the United States.
But the petition troubles "Marta." If she wins, she might not ever see her mother again. Ironically, she wears a t-shirt that says, "I want my mom back."
ABARCO: I just want to make sure that you tell the judge what really happened, OK?
ABARCO: All right.
O'BRIEN (on camera): To win her case, she has to point a finger at her mother in a court?
ABARCO: She has to explain what has happened to her. And that necessarily implies saying something about her mother.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's a painful decision to make -- her mother or a shot at life in America.
The Pedro Pans who fled Cuba 50 years ago arrived under much different circumstances. They had no need for lawyers. The goal was to reunite them with their parents.
MARTINEZ: The entrance was like up here.
O'BRIEN: Former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez was one of them.
MARTINEZ: Our cabins were here.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Do you see similarities between you as a lonely 15-year-old by himself in a country not speaking the language and some of these kids who are at Boys Town now?
MARTINEZ: I think the hopelessness, the lack of direction -- I mean, their situation, in many ways, is probably much more difficult than mine, because sometimes there's not even a family structure there for them.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Today, this conservative politician is a conflicted voice for immigration reform.
MARTINEZ: I think we do have to have a more rationale immigration system, one that really accounts for the people that are here and have been here, that are going nowhere, that we don't want to be a permanent underclass with no rights and always fearing for the next situation that may separate family. Then there's also the need, obviously, to have border control.
O'BRIEN: Martinez has no easy answers, but he sees Miami as living proof of what America can gain when it welcomes immigrants.
Cuban immigrants have repaid this city big time -- building this once sleepy town into an international business hub.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.
O'BRIEN: But "Marta" is from Central America, not Cuba. She crossed the border illegally. And for her, there is no welcome mat. She has decided to play a last desperate card. She will tell a judge about her mother's neglect.
Will that be enough to win her freedom?
O'BRIEN: The success of America's investment in Cuban refugees is on full display. Miami has become a thriving center of Latin culture, a place where Cuban musicians, like former Pedro Pan, Luis Carreno, take center stage.
O'BRIEN (on camera): So you land in America. You're 14 years old and you're walking off the plane.
What did you think?
LUIS CARRENO, MUSICIAN: Oh, God, where am I?
What -- I never had seen a dollar in my life.
O'BRIEN: Did you speak English?
CARRENO: Not at all. Not a word. Remember, I am a country boy.
O'BRIEN: Are you amazed where you are today?
CARRENO: Well, I -- I am amazed and I'm thankful more than amazed.
O'BRIEN: Willie is married to Lissette Alvarez, a cultural icon in her own right. Lissette is also a Pedro Pan.
LISSETTE ALVAREZ, SINGER/SONGWRITER: I remember when my parents said good-bye to us. And my father said, "Don't worry, in six months, you know, you're going to be back and everything is going to be OK."
O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you believe him?
ALVAREZ: I told him, please, you have to come and be with us.
The chorus of the song says...
O'BRIEN: Lissette was a child performer when she arrived from Cuba in 1961. She left behind her parents, Olga and Tony, who were Latin America's "Sonny and Cher." Lissette was sent to a foster home in Dubuque, Iowa. She still remembers the pain of being a child refugee.
ALVAREZ: It was very difficult. You know, you're going through so many changes -- your hormonal changes and -- and becoming a woman. And -- and you're still a child, in a way and -- and being away from your family that is supposed to give you guidance.
O'BRIEN: We interviewed a -- a young girl today. She's 15.
(voice-over): When I tell her "Marta's" story, she feels an instant connection.
(on camera): She's so lonely. She's detained. She misses her mother.
ALVAREZ: Well, that's terrible. I mean, I -- I feel a lot of compassion for that, because it's very tough. You know, it brings back all the memories and -- and I wish that this situation could be solved for all kids.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Months later, "Marta's" story is still haunting Lissette. I caught up with her at an animal rescue center where she volunteers. She told me she wants to help "Marta".
(on camera): Why do you want to go visit "Marta?"
ALVAREZ: You know, in a way, I want to be to her like Miza (ph), this Colombian girl, was for me when I was at the orphanage.
O'BRIEN: Who was Miza?
ALVAREZ: Miza became like a big sister to me. And she made me so happy. And I -- I want to do the same for her.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): "Marta" is fighting for the same thing the Pedro Pans were given decades ago -- shelter in the United States. She goes before a judge to accuse her own mother of abuse, abandonment and neglect. Her lawyer, Michelle Abarca, emerges an hour later with good news.
ABARCO: We're going to be able to file a petition for special immigrant juvenile status, which is a visa that will allow her to stay in the U.S.
O'BRIEN: "Marta" gets escorted back to Boys Town. But the victory allows her to return to court so she can ask a judge to leave Boys Town while she fights deportation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they tell you what's supposed to happen today?
"MARTA": Yes, they told me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you tell me what you want?
Where do you want to go?
"MARTA": Foster home. I want to get out of Boys Town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what you're asking me to do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I do that for you, you promise you're going to do good in school?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real good?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
Your motion is granted, OK?
We're going to do that for you.
O'BRIEN: "Marta's victory is bittersweet. While she's out of detention, she's barred from any contact with her mother.
ABARCO: She had many hopes and dreams when she came to the United States. And some of them were shattered. She expected to have a great life with her mother, to have a family.
O'BRIEN: What "Marta" does have is a new beginning. Her new foster parents, Delores and Alberto Pedrone (ph), came to Miami from Cuba 10 years ago and have been caring for Latino refugee children ever since.
(on camera): How are you feeling?
O'BRIEN: A big smile.
O'BRIEN: You have your own room now. It's nice.
"MARTA": This is my room.
O'BRIEN: Part of what you've agreed to in court is to not see your mother.
Is that hard?
"MARTA": Yes, it's hard. But I don't mind. I just want to get out from Boys Town.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): And there's another home that's now open to "Marta".
ALVAREZ: Quel luna (INAUDIBLE).
O'BRIEN: Lissette Alvarez, true to her word, has reached out to "Marta," like the big sister who helped her.
ALVAREZ: I got her a phone. She called me and we decided she was going to come over. She came over one night and then we went to dinner.
O'BRIEN: She called her twice the first day of school.
ALVAREZ: Did you make new friends?
"MARTA": No friends that I know.
ALVAREZ: You will. The beginning is kind of weird, you know, when you go to a new school for the first time.
O'BRIEN: The relationship has opened a door for "Marta".
"MARTA": I feel good, like I'm free. I'm free.
O'BRIEN: But she's not really free -- yet. "Marta" still has to face a federal immigration officer, who could either deport her or grant her a visa to stay in the United States.
(on camera): Do you worry about what's going to happen in immigration court?
"MARTA": No. No.
"MARTA": Because I have Michelle and I have my God.
O'BRIEN: (voice-over): The night before "Marta's" final immigration hearing, Michelle worries.
ABARCO: Tonight is crunch time. The uncertainties -- it's definitely difficult to think that if something goes wrong, I have to put this child in a situation where she may be sent back to a place that's not safe for her.
O'BRIEN: The next morning, Miami flies by on what could be "Marta's" last ride in the city.
"MARTA": I want to have more opportunities to study and finish my high school. I don't know, I have a lot of dreams.
O'BRIEN: It all began when she crossed the Rio Grande in an inner tube. Now, behind these doors, her journey will end -- one way or another.
Forty-five minutes later, "Marta" comes out with a U.S. visa and a world of possibilities.
ABARCA: This is something that they are giving you -- an opportunity. I really hope that with this, she will go and do great things.
"MARTA": Now, I can do anything -- study, go to college, make money in the future. And I feel grateful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Right here. One, two, three.
O'BRIEN: Up next, one Latino community that pulled together to save itself -- the Latino way.
RICK NAJERA, MEXICAN AMERICAN: My American dream I have every night because I am an American. My family fought and died in World War II. They were in Vietnam. We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us. We are Americans. Any dream I dream is going to be the American dream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait until the barbecue sauce it s on.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's opening day in the Los Angeles suburb of Pico Rivera, and the scene is pure Americana. Hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome.
O'BRIEN: And, of course --
O'BRIEN: But take a closer look at the jerseys, the faces. These kids are Fuentes, Vazquez, Aramentaz, Garcia, Lopez, and Martinez. That's because Pico Rivera is 92 percent Latino, and as American as apple pie.
GRACIE GALLEGOS, MAYOR OF PICO RIVERA: Pico Rivera is one of those grassroots towns. It's kind of like the Brown Mayberry. We all watch that show. O'BRIEN: Gracie Gallegos is Pico born and bred. She was once El-Grito Queen here. That's like Miss Pico Rivera. Her mother is from Mexico, and her dad's family from Spain.
GALLEGOS: How are you? Good, good.
How are you?
O'BRIEN: When we first met Gracie, she was the mayor of this town of 67,000 people, and its biggest cheerleader.
GALLEGOS: How do you like it?
O'BRIEN: That's Bob Spencer, the lone Australian in town, Pico's Public Information Officer.
BOB SPENCER, PICO RIVERA PICO: For the PIO of this town not to speak Spanish is probably not a good thing, but I speak Australian. So they tend to listen to me because of that.
O'BRIEN: As the demographics of our nation change, we wonder whether a place like this could be a window into the future. So I asked Bob for a tour of the nine square miles known as Pico Rivera.
(on camera): It looks like a movie set.
SPENCER: A little bit it does. You see American flags. There's American flag.
O'BRIEN: Another one down there.
SPENCER: There's one there. There's one here.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In the early 1900s, Pico Rivera was mostly farmland. After World War II, veterans, mostly young and white, began moving in. And then came a manufacturing boom.
Fast forward to 2008. Pico Rivera celebrates its 50th anniversary. The town is flourishing, but the faces have changed.
GALLEGOS: Pico Rivera turned predominantly Latino probably somewhere in the early '70s. Folks were just moving to other communities, and Latinos just filled in the gaps.
O'BRIEN: For decades, a move to Pico was a move up. Latinos came here from the barrios of east L.A. looking for cheap housing and manufacturing jobs. But as the demographics changed, new businesses were slow to come.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a challenge even getting a bookstore here.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because there was a misnomer that Latinos don't read either. O'BRIEN: That Latinos wouldn't buy books.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.
O'BRIEN: And a community that's 92 percent Latino would definitely not buy books.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
O'BRIEN: What do you think that means? They look at that 92 percent on paper and they think under-educated, low income, impoverished, don't speak English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the above.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Those businesses that did come to Pico found huge success. This Borders is one of the chain's top selling stores in the nation for Latino books. Today, Pico Rivera is solidly middle class. The median income here is nearly 60,000 dollars, and there's a home ownership rate of 70 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I often have people tell me hey, man, this isn't Beverly Hills. But this is Beverly Hills to me.
O'BRIEN: The children of those Latinos who came in search of manufacturing jobs are now teachers, small business owners, and professionals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the doll house.
O'BRIEN: Pico even has its own Hollywood star. You met her in last night's program, Lupe Ontiveros. You've seen her in "Desperate Housewives," "As Good As It Gets," "The Goonies," "Selena."
(on camera): How come you don't live in Beverly Hills?
LUPE ONTIVEROS, ACTRESS: What for?
O'BRIEN: Because you're a movie star. That's what for.
ONTIVEROS: No, no, no. That's not me. I'm just a real, real person. And Pico Rivera is my heritage. And I don't have my pretensions of any sort. And, plus, they consider me their most famous resident.
O'BRIEN: So you won't leave?
ONTIVEROS: Beverly Hills won't even know. They probably ask me to clean their house.
This is my supply closet. You'll find everything you need. Brooms, dust pans.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): In fact, Lupe says she's played the stereotypical Latina maid more than 100 times.
(on camera): It's upsetting to you?
ONTIVEROS: It's upsetting to any culture when that is the only projection you have of that culture. You're pigeon holed, stereotyped. That means we don't like you. We forget that this country was founded by immigrants.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The immigration debate raging around the country is a non-issue in Pico.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Potato salad, carne asida (ph) --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't even speak Spanish and --
O'BRIEN: Immigrants here have aggressively Americanized, and they're succeeding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I call it Pico Rivera Americans. In Pico Rivera, everything is done the American way. You'll have 10,000 people at the Fourth of July Celebration. Cinco de Mayo, let's have a Corona and we're done.
You know, it's -- it's definitely -- I can see it as a model city.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Nice to meet you. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good.
O'BRIEN (voice-over: But not everyone in this model city is living the American dream. When I first meet 13-year-old Erica Sparks, she's not even sure what that means. Erica moved here last October from the wrong side of the tracks in Torrence, California.
(on camera): How of the first couple of days in Pico Rivera? Did you think, oh, this is so pretty? Or did you think this is not me?
ERICA SPARKS, PICO RIVERA RESIDENT: At first I was, like, wow, this looks nice. Like we're rich or something. This is, like, every day to some people. Normal.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The move has been culture shock for Erica. She's had a rough time fitting in, and has been in and out of trouble. Most recently spray painting graffiti on the walls of her middle school, which got her expelled.
(on camera): You have a bunch of trophies for playing soccer. You've got honor roll hanging on the wall in the living room. How long ago was that?
SPARKS: Three years ago.
O'BRIEN: A thousand days ago. That's not that long ago. What happened?
SPARKS: I don't know. I guess I just got mixed up in the wrong people when I went to middle school.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Erica has been hanging out with gang members. And then there's that tattoo which she willingly showed us. It says 187, the police code for homicide.
(on camera): What was your reaction when you saw Erica's new tattoo? A big 187 on her hip.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I totally lost it. Very disappointed, just very hurt. You know, like she's so young. She's 13 years old, and she's marking herself like that. It really hurt me.
O'BRIEN: Eric Ballentos (ph) is Erica's stepfather. Erica's biological parents have been in and out of jail, so Eric took Erica in years ago. They recently moved in with his girlfriend, Ebony, and three step siblings in Pico. It's Eric's idea of the American dream.
(on camera): What makes you feel like this is the American dream?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, you get like this nice neighborhood. It's our Latino Mayberry, if you will.
O'BRIEN: Did you think coming to Pico Rivera was like culture shock for her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was. This place is completely different culturally as where we're from. You know, so, yes, it was a shock in a sense.
O'BRIEN: Now, Erica is struggling to fit in in this Latino Mayberry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll see if she can tame herself and tame her demons.
O'BRIEN: When we return, Pico Rivera's battle with its own demons, and the murder that changed everything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son says. Mom, get up. It's something bad happened to Aunt Nikita.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Before Pico Rivera, California was known as a Latino Mayberry, it was known as a gangland. Mayor Gracia Gallegos remembers those dark days.
GALLEGOS: Ten years ago, I would have described Pico Rivera as a virtual Tombstone. The cowboys were running the city.
O'BRIEN: Until just a few years ago, this Los Angeles suburb was plagued by gangs and violence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The stabbing happened at Pico Rivera just before 2:00 this morning.
O'BRIEN: The homicide rate more than doubled the national average, until two years ago. One night there was one murder too many. Melinda Contreras remembers the night she lost her sister.
MELINDA CONTRERAS, SISTER WAS MURDERED: My son says get up. Mom, get up. It's something bad happened.
O'BRIEN: Maria Elaina Hicks (ph), a 57-year-old grandmother of eight, was driving home from her sister Melinda's house that night when she spotted a man on her street corner painting graffiti. Maria was angry and approached the tagger flashing her lights and honking. Then a car pulled up behind her and someone fired a shot to the back of her head.
O'BRIEN: She was silenced forever. Two years later her children, Melinda and Matthew, are still trying to come to grips with what happened that night.
MATTHEW HICKS, MOTHER MURDERED: The most petty, most insignificant of acts, somebody who has no sense of what's good and what's right taking away somebody who was so good, somebody who was so, so caring.
O'BRIEN: Four people were arrested. All of them members of a Pico Rivera gang.
HICKS: If any of these kids were being beat up on the side of the road, she'd be the first one to stop and help them. The first one.
O'BRIEN: The violent death of a grandmother struck a cultural nerve in this overwhelmingly Latino town. You don't mess with someone's abuella (ph).
It was a defining moment, says Melinda Wall. She lives on the street where her mother was murdered and walks by the spot every day.
O'BRIEN (on camera): The community was absolutely stunned when your mother was killed. Absolutely shocked.
MELINDA WALL, MOTHER MURDERED: They were. They were.
WALL: I think everybody was outraged that it was just so unbelievable and so sad and so senseless, that I think everybody just kind of got upset and mad. And I think it unified us maybe a little bit.
O'BRIEN: The city poured three million dollars into law enforcement. Pico's new anti-vandalism task force is cracking down on taggers and gang members.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are here because you made bad choices.
O'BRIEN: There's also Pride.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to put jump suits on each and every one of you.
O'BRIEN: A program the city kicked off to reach add risk kids, so they don't end up like the ones charged in the murder of Maria Hicks.
Erica Sparks is in that same program for tagging her middle school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look straight ahead and no talking.
O'BRIEN: The nine-week course lets teens experience the consequences of joining a gang firsthand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to see what it's like when they actually bring somebody to jail.
O'BRIEN: Ending up in jail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're in a world of hurt if you get to a place like this.
O'BRIEN: Ending up on the streets.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, kids, keep your head up and keep strong out there. It's really tough.
O'BRIEN: Ending up dead.
(on camera): This program you're in, the Pride program, is it helping you?
SPARKS: I think so. I've done a lot better since I was in it.
O'BRIEN: What part of it has stuck with you?
SPARKS: People always told me over and over, you know, this isn't the way to go. If I could do it all over again, I would. I have heard that 1,000 times. But Pride actually shows you. I think that helped me out. Like, instead of hearing it, I got to see it and feel it.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Pride tries to show kids the upside of making the right choices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to tell each and every one of you that you're valuable.
O'BRIEN: They can be successful and Latino, especially in a town like Pico Rivera, where the two go hand in hand. There are college visits and career days.
UNIDENTIFIED MAKE: Lord, I want to lift up this family to you, especially Erica, as they get ready to go to court.
O'BRIEN: But is it too late for Erica Sparks? It's verdict day. Because of the graffiti stunt at her middle school, Erica could spend up to a year behind bars. Or if she's lucky, get probation.
Her stepfather Eric worries. Ever since the Maria Hicks murder, Pico Rivera has come down hard on taggers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm definitely nervous. They don't play around here.
O'BRIEN: Finally, after a long day of waiting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, unfortunately, we waited all day to find out that we have to come back in July.
O'BRIEN: Which means that for a month and a half, any misstep will have serious consequences for Erica.
(on camera): How come it's so hard for you to pick a side and it's the achiever side, and not the side that's the bad girl side?
SPARKS: I'm used to being bad already. It's going to be hard to change. But I'll do to avoid a year in jail.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): But just two days later, and only two days away from graduating from Pride, Erica Sparks runs away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're worried. Where is this going? Why is she lashing out? She knows that there's going to be repercussions from this. So we're really, really worried.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did she stay last night? Nobody knows.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Erica Sparks is on the run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called her on the cell that she has. And she didn't pick up. Ready?
Yes, let's go.
O'BRIEN: Lieutenant Steve Sanchez and Reverend Alex Mata, leaders of the Pride Gang Prevention Program --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to look for apartment number 25.
O'BRIEN: -- are searching door to door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No luck.
O'BRIEN: There's no sign of Erica.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is tough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She hasn't been there at all yesterday or today.
O'BRIEN: In most cities, she'd be just another run away. But not in Pico Rivera, California, where 92 percent of residents are Latino and they look after their own.
Not so long ago, Pico Rivera was thought to be one of the most dangerous communities in the Los Angeles area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, let's give our deputy sheriff a big round of applause.
O'BRIEN: Today, graffiti is hard to find and violent crime is down 30 percent thanks in part to programs like Pride.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to give it to one person.
O'BRIEN: That are reaching out to kids on the margin, like Erica Sparks.
The cleanup has been a full-fledged community effort, with some very unlikely supporters. Hector Avila is the vice president of Together.
HECTOR AVILA, VICE PRESIDENT, TOGETHER: OK, make sure you can see the lens and the lens sees you.
O'BRIEN: A low rider car club that looks more like a casting call for gang bangers.
(on camera): Are there people who see you guys at a competition, Together Card Club from Los Angeles, and think gang bangers?
AVILA: Yes, we get that stereotype. I mean we have the cover. We're bald and tattooed and all that stuff. But that's one of our rules in my club. There is no gang affiliated in the club.
O'BRIEN: Hector is the fourth generation of a hardcore LA gang.
AVILA: This is my oldest one right here.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Hi. How are you?
(voice-over): But he chose not to follow in his family's footsteps.
(on camera): Aww, someone loves daddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): He makes sure members keep club priorities straight: cars, family...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do support him 100 percent. O'BRIEN: ... community.
(on camera): Mayor's certificate of appreciation.
(voice-over): In that order.
(on camera): Hi, Donnie (ph). Soledad. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing?
O'BRIEN: Pleasure. Nice to meet you. Your car is beautiful. I like the sparkles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, thank you.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The cars are like works of art. Paint jobs can run $5,000 more.
(on camera): That's a big stereo system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Trunks are transformed into stereos, coolers, even theaters. And what really makes these low-riders dance, hydraulics.
O'BRIEN (on camera): That was awesome.
(voice-over): This year, Together's annual car show raised $3,000 for the PRIDE program and a scholarship in the name of Maria Hicks, the grandmother murdered by gang members two years ago.
GRACIE GALLEGOS, FORMER MAYOR OF PICO RIVERA, CALIFORNIA: Together Car Club really came through for the city.
O'BRIEN: It's this kind of community support that gives Mayor Gracie Gallegos hope for kids like Erica Sparks.
GALLEGOS: So, here you have the group that was pointed at, they were blamed for -- for gang affiliation, and gang association, and for trouble. They came back and they're proving, let's go beyond the stereotypes. You know, we're not only trying to send the message that that's not who we are, but we're saying, we're going to help keep kids out of gangs.
Hey, Lisa, let's go over my calendar.
O'BRIEN: But, like any American city, Pico has its troubles. Several months after we met Mayor Gallegos, she resigned from office, citing family reasons. It was soon after that Pico Rivera learned she had pled no contest to cashing a fraudulent check six years earlier.
GALLEGOS: The DA and the attorney and even the city attorney told me that it had -- it would not affect my ability to serve. In hindsight, you know, things that -- good for the city that were accomplished, they were accomplished.
O'BRIEN: It was a blow for this tight-knit town. But Pico Rivera can be a forgiving place. Even after Erica Sparks' graffiti stunt and disappearing act, the PRIDE program leaders never gave up on her. Erica's graduation is tonight, and it's been two days since she ran away.
Now Lieutenant Steve Sanchez (ph) has a tip.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got information that Erica, we had a lead that Erica may be with some relatives out here in Highland Park. So, hoping that works out. I'm hoping -- I'm hoping to find her here, so I can take her back home.
Thank you very much.
O'BRIEN: It pays off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad you're here. I was worried about you. I found out -- I found out yesterday you left. Man, you know, tonight, you graduate.
ERICA SPARKS, LATINA: No, I'm not, because my dad is going to be like, no, I don't want...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to talk to your dad. You're going to graduate. It's not the same. Yes, you have earned it.
SPARKS: Well, I don't want him there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We will deal with that. You want the backseat, you want the front seat of the black and white?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With or without handcuffs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. You're going to the front with me without handcuffs. OK? Come on. Let's go.
Go ahead. Tell her bye.
O'BRIEN: Erica agrees to go back to Pico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will see her again.
It's going to be OK, ma'am. It will be OK. OK, come on.
O'BRIEN: When she arrives back home...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erica, first of all, when we get in there, let me do all the talking, OK?
O'BRIEN: ... her stepfather is more relieved than angry. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see it in his eyes that he -- he really does love you and care for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know that, too, right, Erica? You and I have been together a long time. I don't want to see us go through this anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK?
O'BRIEN: Just hours later...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, how are you...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nice to see you.
O'BRIEN: ... Erica makes it to the PRIDE banquet. She knows she has messed up and that, in any other city, the outcome could be very different. But this is Pico Rivera.
SPARKS: It feels good that everyone would have my back, because, if they didn't, they would be like, why are -- she's a troubled child. Just lock her up. But, since I got all these people on my side, it's like it eases it a little.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started with 20. We finished with 20. Give yourself a round of applause. That is an accomplishment.
O'BRIEN: For Lieutenant Steve Sanchez, this night is what Pico Rivera is all about...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erica Sparks.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: ... helping the next generation become part of this Latino Mayberry.
And for Melinda Wall, it's a chance to honor her mother who was murdered by gang members two years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Melinda, can I get you to come back up here?
O'BRIEN: Tonight, Melinda is presenting a community scholarship in her mother's name, in hopes that these kids will choose education over gangs.
MELINDA WALL, DAUGHTER OF MURDER VICTIM: You know, my -- my family was affected. So, I can't even express it. My kids had made the wrong choice. And if you guys can leave here and make a better choice and maybe pass it on, pass it forward, and somebody else's family could be saved from the tragedy that we have, it's -- it's so worth it. (APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: As life in this town presses forward, in the Latino way...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: ... each day, it's looking more and more like the all- American Mayberry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indivisible, liberty and justice for all.
(on screen): Erica Sparks served a month in juvenile detention for the graffiti incident. Today, she is making progress and is still active in the PRIDE Program.
O'BRIEN: When "Latino in America" returns: an American dream one man paid for with his life.
(on camera): Do you think about the way he died?
CRYSTAL DILLMAN, FIANCEE OF LUIS RAMIREZ: Every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you travel in different places in America, you feel a little discrimination sometimes, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just bad looks when you walk into somewhere where -- where you don't -- they feel you shouldn't belong. They clutch their purses. Walk by a car, they lock the doors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listening to sayings like wetback, fruit picker, which I eat fruit, but I don't pick it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the fear of people who are different, fear of the unknown, fear that, some day, English will not be the main language that will be spoken in this country.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's the biggest festival of the year in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
O'BRIEN: Heritage Day is a true multicultural event.
O'BRIEN: More than a dozen nationalities celebrate the rich immigrant history of this town of 5,000 people...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're looking good, man.
O'BRIEN: ... nestled in coal country.
LOU ANN PLEVA, RESIDENT OF SHENANDOAH, PENNSYLVANIA: My grandparents came over from Poland. My maternal grandparents came over from Germany. My grandfather was put into the mines when he was in second grade.
O'BRIEN: Since the 1800's, people like Lou Ann Pleva's grandparents have come here, Poles, Lithuanians, Irish, to mine the coal in Shenandoah's hills.
Today, immigrants from Mexico and from El Salvador have joined heritage day, immigrants like Luis Ramirez, who came here in search of a better life. But, on July 12, 2008, just blocks away from the Parade of Nations, Luis' dream came to a sudden and violent end.
DILLMAN: Truly, in my heart, I believe they beat him up because he was Latino.
PLEVA: And it was unthinkable. How could kids do this? How could kids who were raised in my hometown do this? What happened that night? What was this about?
O'BRIEN: Luis Ramirez was 18 years old when he came to the United States in 2002 to help support his family back in Mexico.
DILLMAN: Everybody comes here for a better life. And they deserve just that.
O'BRIEN: Three years later, Luis met Shenandoah native Crystal Dillman. The attraction was immediate.
DILLMAN: You know, he grew up with barely any money at all. I grew up with barely any money at all. He was loving, and caring, and considerate. I just -- I don't know. I fell in love with him automatically.
O'BRIEN: They dated and had two children together. Crystal says they were planning to be married.
(on camera): What was Luis like?
DILLMAN: He would do anything for anybody, especially for his children. He did the backbreaking work just so that he could take care of his family.
O'BRIEN: That work, landscaping, roofing, picking cherries, is why Luis Ramirez and many other Latinos moved to Shenandoah, part of a new wave of Latino immigration occurring in big cities and small towns across America.
PLEVA: It's cheap to live here. You can buy a house for practically nothing. You can rent a house for practically nothing.
O'BRIEN: Shenandoah is a bargain, this house on the market for just $10,000.
PLEVA: The people that I have talked to wanted to get out of the city. A lot of them were from New York -- wanted to get out of the city, raise their kids in a small town, have that small-town upbringing.
O'BRIEN: The Latino community here is small, less than 10 percent of the town's population. Fitting in, especially with a white girlfriend, wasn't easy.
(on camera): Did you have problems as a couple, I mean, walking down the street?
DILLMAN: I mean, not all the time, but some of the times, yes.
O'BRIEN: What would people say?
DILLMAN: Things like, "Take your dirty Mexican boyfriend back to Mexico," and "spic lover," and just "wetback lover" and this and that and that and that.
O'BRIEN: People would say that to you as you walked down the street?
DILLMAN: Yes, or people would yell it.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Luis was walking down this street with Crystal's half-sister, Roxanne. Here, they came across a group of white high school football players who had been drinking at a party.
EILEEN BURKE, RETIRED PHILADELPHIA POLICE OFFICER: I guess it was about 11:00, five after, I heard this screaming and yelling.
O'BRIEN: Eileen Burke, a retired Philadelphia police officer living 50 feet away, heard what happened next.
BURKE: It was getting louder and louder, the ethnic "F. this, Mexican that, spic this," the whole nine yards.
O'BRIEN (on camera): And that's what they were saying?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): It began with taunts and ethnic slurs. It ended with punches. Luis and the boys started fighting. The police investigation found there was at least one kick to the side of Luis' head. BURKE: And I ran over to the man in the middle of the street, because, at this time, I see him down. He's not moving. I could see the foam coming out of his mouth. And he is starting to convulse in the middle of the street.
O'BRIEN: There were six of them. And, when it was over, Luis Ramirez lay on the street barely breathing. One of his attackers, according to Eileen Burke, had a final warning.
BURKE: He says, "You tell your F-ing Mexican friends to get the F. out of Shenandoah, or you're going F-ing laying next to him."
O'BRIEN: It was a crime that would rip Shenandoah apart.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Two days after being attacked by high school football players, Luis Ramirez died. Prosecutors say his killing was a hate crime.
(on camera): Do you think about the way he died?
DILLMAN: Every day.
O'BRIEN: Crystal Dillman was his fiancee.
DILLMAN: I think about seeing him in that hospital bed. And I -- I mean, I don't wish that on my worst enemy. I have never been so scared in my life.
O'BRIEN: This town has a reputation, though, for being a melting pot. I mean, when you look at all the different people who march on Heritage Day, Lithuanians, Irish, Germans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good old Uncle Sam.
DILLMAN: For years and years and years, people have come here from different countries. But, lately, if you come here from countries like more down south, like Mexico and that, they seem to target you more. And I -- I don't understand why.
CARLOS RAMOS, RESIDENT OF SHENANDOAH, PENNSYLVANIA: This town, they're close-minded. They're ignorant. And, you know, to them, if you're not white, you're just not right.
That's why. It's only been 10 years since the Hispanics started moving up here.
O'BRIEN: Carlos Ramos and Jenny Meese (ph) live in this predominantly Latino neighborhood.
RAMOS: You know, I have been called a spic. I have been called a brown nigger. I mean, you know, they throw these nasty words at you, you know?
O'BRIEN: Carlos is from Puerto Rico, an American citizen.
RAMOS: If you're Puerto Rican, Dominican, whatever, to them, you're considered a Mexican. It don't matter. You're a Mexican.
O'BRIEN: Like Luis Ramirez, Carlos moved to Shenandoah for a better life in a small, safe town.
RAMOS: Yes, I met a lot of great people out here. And it's a great town, because it's nice and quiet. And, you know, you don't -- you know, you don't see -- like, I grew up in New York City, you know. I saw the gangs up there and I saw the shoot-outs. So, that's why I kind of liked it over here. It was much more laid-back.
O'BRIEN: And like Luis Ramirez, Carlos' girlfriend, Jenny, is white.
(on camera): Tell me what it's like when the two of you walk down the street. You're Puerto Rican.
RAMOS: Oh, yes.
O'BRIEN: You're a blonde white girl. What it's like?
RAMOS: It's not good, because we always get really nasty looks.
O'BRIEN: Are you fearful for your safety? Has there ever been an incident where you felt...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't fear for me. I fear for us, and to have him walk out and somebody take him away from me. It would bring me so much sadness.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): There were multiple eyewitnesses to the attack on Luis Ramirez. They knew and could identify the attackers. Still, it would take authorities nearly two weeks to announce charges against four local teenagers.
Brandon Piekarsky was an honor student, another, Derrick Donchak, the former high school quarterback. Colin Walsh ran track and got straight A's. All were considered good kids. Two were charged with murder, all four with assault and ethnic intimidation, a hate crime. They faced decades in prison.
Colin Walsh's father, Michael, spoke to CNN shortly after the arrest.
MICHAEL WALSH, FATHER OF COLIN WALSH: My son was a great kid and fell into a bad situation. I feel sorry for -- for anyone that cares for Mr. Ramirez. I never have any problems with the Latino community.
O'BRIEN (on camera): You were a young person here.
O'BRIEN: Are young people in this town raised with hate?
PLEVA: I don't think so. I don't think it's hate. I honestly don't think it's hate.
PLEVA: Ignorance, a lack of opportunity to travel in the world, to be among different cultures all day, every day. I really don't see it as hate. I really just see it as fear of losing what little you have.
O'BRIEN: It's a tough time.
PLEVA: It's a very tough time.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The tough times came to Shenandoah in the early 1950s, when the coal and the jobs ran out. Today, unemployment in the county is over 10 percent, and the 2000 census found 20 percent of Shenandoans live below the poverty line.
JOE MILLER, RESIDENT OF SHENANDOAH, PENNSYLVANIA: When I was in football, when I was in high school, we would come up and play Shenandoah. And it was a great town.
O'BRIEN: Joe Miller says Shenandoah has changed.
MILLER: Some of the changes I have seen is the illegal immigrants moving in, bringing in the drugs, the crimes. Crimes are committed where -- because of drug users needing money.
O'BRIEN: Joe has lived in Shenandoah for 12 years. He has got one of the coveted local factory jobs.
MILLER: That's the big thing. A lot of people say the town is a bunch of racists and bigots. And people don't understand there's a difference between illegal immigration and the people that are legal.
I went out last night, and I was hanging around with a lot of Spanish people. And people called me a racist. And, to me if you're a racist, you're not going to hang around with these people.
O'BRIEN: Last year, saying he feared for the safety of his children, Joe formed Save Shenandoah, seen here on YouTube.
MILLER: The crime rates are rising in our town. And they will keep rising if we sit back and watch our streets being overrun by crime and drugs.
O'BRIEN: Joe's concerns about illegal immigration go beyond just crime.
MILLER: Think of when you walk in to somewhere and people are speaking Spanish. It makes you feel out of place, like you're not in -- you're not in America no more.
O'BRIEN: Joe flies the American flag, the Marine Corps flag, and the Confederate flag on his porch.
MILLER: What bothers me is, they're here illegally. They take a lot of jobs.
O'BRIEN (on camera): What -- like what kinds of jobs? What job did you lose to someone who is Mexican?
MILLER: I haven't lost any jobs.
O'BRIEN: What job did your friend lose to someone who is Mexican?
MILLER: My friends haven't lost any jobs.
O'BRIEN: So, who is losing jobs to Mexicans?
MILLER: Black -- blacks. Blacks, I would say more, for the most part.
O'BRIEN: I -- I smile because it's like the guy with the Confederate flag is defending the black people.
O'BRIEN: Is there an irony in that?
MILLER: I'm being honest. No, they take a lot of the black jobs, too.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): But do illegal immigrants really take jobs from legal residents? We talked to more than 50 people looking for work at this local career center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The economy sucks right now...
O'BRIEN (on camera): Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... massively.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Only a handful thought they had directly lost a job to an illegal immigrant. But two-thirds said undocumented workers hurt the local job market.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they're illegals, that's rotten, because there's so many jobs here in the county. And the people that are legal should get them first.
O'BRIEN: According to experts and locals, illegal immigrants will often work for less than legal citizens.
When I visited local businesses rumored to hire illegal immigrants off-camera, they denied it and gave me a tour on the spot to prove it. But one business owner did admit he hires undocumented workers -- because it's cheaper.
MILLER: The employers are hiring them and not us because we wouldn't work for, say, $7 an hour, and they would.
O'BRIEN: Luis Ramirez was one of those illegal immigrants working in the U.S. The cost for him, for his American dream, would be his life.
The trial -- when we return.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, is a town built on immigrants. There's the Holy Ghost Polish Catholic Church. There's St. Michaels, the Greek Orthodox Church, St. George's Lithuanian Cemetery. And here's Annunciation Irish Catholic Church, where many Latinos worship. Latinos who came to Shenandoah looking for the American dream, a dream denied for Luis Ramirez.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four teens being charged with ethnic intimidation. Two of them, 16-year-old Brandon Pierkarsky, and 17- year-old Colin Walsh, are charged as adults for criminal homicide.
O'BRIEN: The arrests last July in the killing of Ramirez put Shenandoah in the national spotlight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking Spanish)
O'BRIEN: Four days after the arrest, a candlelight vigil, overwhelmingly attended by Latinos, with an emotional plea from Shenandoah native Luanne Flema (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't be afraid. We're all children of God. There are many that feel this way. They just don't know how to come forward.
O'BRIEN: For nine long months, Shenandoah waits and dreads the trial to come. The fault lines that divide this town surface at rallies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you love your country?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!
O'BRIEN: And outside the defendants' preliminary hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ain't no crime in the power of the people, because the power of the people don't stop. Hey, what!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ain't no crime in the power of the people, because the power of the people don't stop. Hey, what! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ain't no crime in the power of the people, because the power of the people don't stop. Hey, what!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a racial issue. It's not a hate crime. It's an issue of somebody was at the wrong place where they didn't belong.
O'BRIEN: There's anger at those who talk to the press. A day before the trial in April, our interview with Luanne Flema (ph) is interrupted by her neighbor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, but we're trying to work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. Get your story straight before you go babbling anything.
RELYNN MACKALONIS, SHENANDOAH RESIDENT: It wasn't a racial crime. If he wasn't here illegally, I think it wouldn't have happened. But if they're here illegally, look at how many we have around here. They're nice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is putting Shenandoah in such a bad spot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand that. That's why I'm doing this.
O'BRIEN: As the spotlight on Shenandoah grows, many Latinos refuse to talk to us on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By talking to you guys from the last time, things just got a little bad because, you know, people around the neighborhood, you know, they found out about me being interviewed. And they called the cops on me. And they said I was dealing drugs from my house.
JOE MILLER, ANTI-ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION ACTIVIST: Today is April 27th. It's the first day of the trial here in Shenandoah.
O'BRIEN: Anti-illegal immigration activist Joe Miller is planning to sit in the courtroom. To support the defendants.
MILLER: I feel better about myself for standing up for our country, for what I feel is right.
O'BRIEN: At the trial, defense lawyers for Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky claimed Luis was the aggressor, not the boys. That it was not a hate crime, just a street fight gone wrong.
The prosecution called eyewitnesses, and Brian Scully, the only defendant to be charged in juvenile court, who admits he told Luis Ramirez, "Go home, you Mexican mother-F-er."
And fourth teen Colin Walsh, who took a plea deal, testified that Shenandoah police officers urged the teenagers to get their story straight.
The jury hears evidence that, when doctors operated on Luis, his injuries were so severe that part of his brain oozed out of his skull. But they also hear conflicting stories from the teenagers about what happened that night.
Five days after the trial begins, the jury gets the case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going to happen is anybody's guess. Anything can happen. There can be a hung jury. There can be a mistrial. There are no winners. This is tragic for everybody.
O'BRIEN: The jury deliberates for eight hours. Finally, about 11 p.m., a verdict. In the most serious charge of murder and ethnic intimidation, acquittal. Piekarsky and Donchak are convicted of simple assault and underaged drinking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome. Very happy the truth came out.
O'BRIEN: There's celebration from the boys' supporters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I was right from the start. That's my comment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad the jury listened carefully to the truth.
O'BRIEN: But later that night, a different opinion at a Latino hangout.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's crazy. If it was anybody else, they basically would have life. If it was any one of us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of tension, and I'm scared. That's why I'm not showing my face. I'm scared.
O'BRIEN: Honor student Brandon Piekarsky is sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison. Former quarterback Derrick Donchak to seven months. Each could serve a maximum of 23 months.
A federal investigation into the killing and the actions of the Shenandoah Police Department is now under way.
Luis Ramirez's fiancee Crystal Dillman.
CRYSTAL DILLMAN, LUIS RAMIREZ'S FIANCEE: This is not -- this is no justice. Not even one little bit.
O'BRIEN (on camera): What would you like to see? What would be justice, do you think?
DILLMAN: That they go to jail for a lot longer than 23 months.
O'BRIEN: The boys? And what else? DILLMAN: They're not boys. They're murderers.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): For now, the verdict and the sentence stand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American system is not happy here in Shenandoah for Hispanics. I mean, yes, we can buy houses and open up businesses. But, you know, the majority of people out here are white. And they don't feel comfortable with us. And you know, they're going to make it hard for us, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My whole life has been about civil rights. From the time I was a kid, went through the Kennedys, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, the gay rights movement, the women's rights movement. Why are we still having this conversation? I know we still need to, but are we going to learn? Are we ever going to learn?
O'BRIEN: When we return, how far can you go in America if you don't speak the language?
CARLOS ROBLAIS, WORKING TO IMPROVE ENGLISH: I can't have a conversation with people. It's really bad.
CRISTINA GARCIA: My parents are Cuban, but I was born in Puerto Rico. But I grew up in Miami. If that makes any sense.
When I speak English, people ask me where I'm from, because I have an accent in English. Apparently. I thought I spoke normally. But apparently not.
When I went to college, I lived in New York for a summer. And I realized everybody was telling me, "Oh, my God, say that again. Say that again. You sound so funny when you say that. Orlando." Like apparently, I'm saying "Orlando," it sounds like "Or-LAND-oh."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Open your student books for me to page 86.
ROBLAIS: First grade.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Repeat after me: "logs used as wheels."
ROBLAIS: Logs used as wheels.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carlos Roblais seems like the typical American, until he opens his mouth.
ROBLAIS: A horse drawn chariot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chariot.
O'BRIEN: The 29-year-old is taking English pronunciation classes at Valencia Community College in Orlando. He's hoping to reduce his Spanish accent.
(on camera) When you came to Orlando, how did you think your English was?
ROBLAIS: Worse. Really worse.
O'BRIEN: Did you feel -- did you know you couldn't speak English well?
ROBLAIS: Yes. Yes. I also cried in my bed, because I can't have a conversation with the people. It was really bad.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carlos was born in Puerto Rico, an American territory, whose residents are U.S. citizens. Spanish is the main language.
ROBLAIS: It's hard to understand the English.
O'BRIEN: His dream is to make it on mainland USA.
Two years ago Carlos joined the fastest growing Puerto Rican community in the country: Orlando. Orlando has been transformed by what some call the relocation. By 2006, 1,000 Puerto Ricans were moving to Orlando every week. And not just from the island; about half came from New York. They came for higher wages, affordable housing, and the familiar warm weather.
Disney is one of the most aggressive recruiters of Puerto Ricans. Carlos' brother moved to Orlando to work for Disney. He married and started a family. Carlos wants that life, too. In Puerto Rico, he was a decorated police officer. Now he dreams of a job in Florida law enforcement. But first, he has to pass the sheriff's exam.
ROBLAIS: I failed the first one. But I don't think it's so hard, the test. I can do it.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Would knowing English better help you on the exam?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carlos is surrounded by students with similar dreams. This Colombian surgeon installs cable TV. He's waiting for his medical certification in the United States.
And until he improves his English, this Venezuelan naval commander cleans pools.
(on camera) You're an American citizen, and you're sitting in a classroom full of people also trying to learn English who are not American citizens. Do you identify with them? Or do you feel like...
O'BRIEN: You're different?
ROBLAIS: I'm with them.
ROBLAIS: Yes. And they always ask me, "Why you taking English class? You don't speak English in Puerto Rico? You're part of the United States. You're part of the United States?"
"Yes, we're part of United States. But we don't speak English there. We do, but the system is worse. They don't like teaching it."
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carlos Roblais is not the only one having trouble communicating in the new Orlando.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What went further, the bat or the ball?
O'BRIEN: Trey Etheridge (ph) opened his dream business, Impact Sports, a baseball coaching facility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Double play!
O'BRIEN: He quickly realized he need to attract Puerto Rican customers to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With baseball being such a passionate sport for so many Latinos, we thought, you know, we might try to find a better way to reach people that we may not be reaching real effectively.
O'BRIEN: Unable to speak Spanish, Trey hired Jason Torres, a Puerto Rican, to coach his Latino players.
(on camera) What do you think would happen to your business if you were not reaching out to the Latinos?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We wouldn't make it.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): And that philosophy is being adopted by Orlando businesses everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your chance. This is the last at bat.
O'BRIEN: Trey is pinning his success on summer baseball camps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's out at first!
O'BRIEN: Hoping to draw Latino players.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an outdoor camp next week. And right now we don't have anybody signed up. Knowing it's a last-second deal, it might be Friday before we fill it up. But I'm a little bit worried. O'BRIEN: So Trey hits the streets, personally making contacts with Latino businesses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I was just wanting to see if I could drop off some free sample coupons.
O'BRIEN: Hoping to spread the word and fill up his summer baseball camps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Trey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't speak English.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. That will help. Thank you.
I have free coupons. I'd love for some of your customers to come out and try us for free.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
O'BRIEN: Trey knows that embracing these new Orlando residents could be his key to success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish I spoke Spanish. But I'm 45 years old. It's going to be tough to learn.
There you go.
O'BRIEN: Trey's efforts pay off. His final baseball camp is filled to capacity. One-third of the players are Puerto Rican.
On the other side of the language line, Carlos Roblais, struggling with English. His first job was managing a toy store, where he was mocked for his accent.
ROBLAIS: They always called me -- called me a Mexican.
O'BRIEN (on camera): They called you Mexican?
ROBLAIS: Yes. Because I had a lot of problem with my English. And I don't know why but, you know, I don't -- in that time, I don't know what -- I didn't know what was the problem with Mexicans. Now I know. So...
O'BRIEN: So it's a slur?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): When the toy store went under, Carlos lost his job. Now unemployed, he spends every waking moment studying. Studying for his English class and studying for the sheriff's exam.
(on camera) Is this the test?
(voice-over) A month later, I check back with Carlos to see how he's progressing.
(on camera) Academy requirements. Criminal justice chain of command. Officer safety and response. Community relations. Intervention services.
O'BRIEN: This looks hard. How many questions is it? Over how long?
ROBLAIS: Two hundred fifty, in four hours. I go in more comfortable for the test now.
O'BRIEN: This time?
ROBLAIS: A little nervous. But I think I'm ready.
O'BRIEN: When's the test?
ROBLAIS: Next week.
O'BRIEN: You've got a lot of pressure on you. And basically a week to go.
ROBLAIS: That's right. I have to move forward.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Adding to that pressure, fatherhood. Carlos met Kayla (ph) a year ago. Now they're engaged and expecting a baby. Carlos Roblais is unemployed, uninsured, and still struggling with his English. His future and now his family's future is in his hands.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): One good thing that's happened to Carlos Roblais since coming to Orlando is Kayla (ph). They met a year ago. And today they're engaged and expecting a baby.
ROBLAIS: It's really exciting, really. I want to cry, too. So...
O'BRIEN: At their first appointment months ago, Carlos and Kayla (ph) were lost. They couldn't understand their doctor, who spoke only English. Now, because of Orlando's growing Spanish speaking population, the county provides more Spanish-speaking doctors.
ROBLAIS: The first time was hard, because it's the first time that I got that kind of language of doctors. And I prefer keep my mouth shut up and wait for somebody that speaks Spanish. O'BRIEN: But Carlos can't afford to wait. He's unemployed and a father to be. He wants to be a Florida sheriff. But failed the exam. The pressure is on. Carlos will retake the test next week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking Spanish)
O'BRIEN: Vanessa Rosa (ph) and her family are living the life Carlos dreams of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Comida et cena.
O'BRIEN: Born in Puerto Rico also, Vanessa and her husband, Sol (ph), were already fluent in English when they moved to Orlando. Now they're determined to preserve their Puerto Rican culture.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking Spanish)
At home we only speak Spanish. Amongst the four of us, we only speak Spanish, because we want them to carry on that -- that legacy. We do know that they speak English, because they interact very well at daycare.
O'BRIEN: Like many Puerto Ricans here, Vanessa and her family feel right at home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The environment is very similar. You even go to the stores, and people will be speaking Spanish and you're like, what? What? Am I not in the states? Do I hear some Spanish now?
O'BRIEN: Vanessa and 200,000 fellow Puerto Ricans are the new face of Orlando. Orlando businesses courted these workers. Many are engineers and doctors.
Vanessa studied in the United States and was recruited by Disney nine years ago. She's a senior industrial engineer who works on one of Disney's most vexing problems, long lines.
Recently, 60,000 fellow employees elected Vanessa to be Disney's ambassador, the face of Disney World, Orlando. It's a huge honor for this Latina from Puerto Rico.
(on camera) Are you kind of the head cheerleader for the company and for outside of the company?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we are cheerleaders every day, right? So yes. For the company, inside of the company or outside of the company.
Have a wonderful day.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): But not every story here has a Disney ending.
I traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to meet Professor Jorge Duani (ph), who's tracked the migration of thousands of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland. He found that education and English fluency are the keys to success.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For every success story, you also find another family, for example, that hasn't done well who want to come back, who didn't find the kinds of jobs they expected. And, in fact, we do have a return migration from places like Orlando, Tampa, Miami and other places in the United States.
O'BRIEN: For Carlos Roblais, with a baby on the way, he is more determined than ever to become a Florida sheriff. He spends every day studying, learning English and cramming for that second chance to pass the Florida sheriff's exam.
ROBLAIS: I am going to have a family. You know? I need to refer to my house and everything. I have to get a good job, good pay, and what I like.
Today is the test. I think I'm ready. I'm a little bit nervous. But always looking forward. I'm praying it's the same test I took before. If it's like that, I know I'll get it.
ROBOTIC VOICE: (speaking Spanish)
O'BRIEN: Even with the GPS in Spanish, Carlos gets lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, how can I help you?
ROBLAIS: Hi. Do you know where the New York Street? I'm looking for the place for the sheriff's exam.
O'BRIEN: Carlos has four hours to retake the Florida sheriff's exam. It may be the most important exam he'll ever take.
It's been one week since Carlos retook the exam. The results are posted online. He's failed for a second time.
ROBLAIS: Crap, I failed again. I don't want to see the computer. I don't know what to do to study.
O'BRIEN: Failure doesn't diminish Carlos' ambitions.
ROBLAIS: I'm going to do to take the test again. I will try again. I need my future. That's my future. That's what I want. That's my goal.
O'BRIEN: Carlos is determined to have it all.
ROBLAIS: I'm going to have my house, my daughter...
O'BRIEN: And, of course, a job. It's Carlos' American dream.
ROBLAIS: Nice. Thank you.