Charlotte, N.C. — You’d think they love the president.
After all, Barack Obama gave these young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents a little bit of hope against the constant threat of deportation.
When he issued the presidential order in June that grants about 1 million Dreamers – named after the stagnant DREAM Act that would give them legal status and a path to citizenship – they marched in the streets in gratitude.
But the initial euphoria that comes with any sigh of relief was followed by the ire of steam: The Dreamers are not happy.
Don’t be fooled by the appearance tonight at the Democratic National Convention by a young DREAM Act activist who was almost deported last year after a minor traffic stop in Texas. Scheduled for 9 p.m. in a primetime slot following a video on immigration titled “Stronger Together,” Mexican-born Benita Veliz — a high school valedictorian and university graduate — will go on stage for a few moments and will likely say a few words of gratitude to Obama for the deferred action order before she introduces Spanish-language TV host Cristina Saralegui.
While Veliz will make history becoming the first undocumented immigrant to speak on stage at a political convention, most of the Dreamers in Charlotte, N.C., have come here to protest Obama’s lack of any real solution – despite promises made four years ago.
“All of my family is undocumented, so me being eligible for deferred action doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to keep my family with me,” 25-year-old Kitzia Esteva told VOXXI.
‘“That’s very important to me, not just because of my family, but because of tons of families that are here that are struggling to survive every day, that are contributing to the economy, that are working class people,” said Esteva, who came into the U.S. when she was 15.
Martin Unzueta is on the flip side of that. The father of two Dreamers cannot apply for deferred action himself and is faced with the prospect of being deported and leaving his daughters behind.
“The message for the president is that everybody in this country deserves an option,” Unzueta told VOXXI. “Immigrants have been working for years, they pay the taxes, they buy the houses, they grow up here with their families.”
“We want to ask the president what side is he going to be standing on,” said Julio Salgado, 29, who also rode the undocubus into Charlotte after stops in 15 cities in 10 states. “What side of history is he going to be on,” Salgado told VOXXI. “Will he be on the side of history that is pro-migrant and helped develop this country? Or is he going to be against us?”
“We want to know what president Obama, what his option is, whether he is going to continue deporting our community or whether he is going to make a change,” Natalie Cruz, another undocubus rider, told VOXXI.
Cruz might find out tonight when the Dreamers issue makes the stage in a big way.
Dreamers got a brief mention by San Antonio Mayor Julio Castro in his opening keynote address Tuesday.
“And because he knows that we don’t have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers,” Castro said and then directed his comments to the Dreamers themselves. “I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it’s time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they’ve ever called home: America.”
It was an emotional moment for Gaby Pacheco, who is probably the country’s most recognized Dreamer, a Miami girl who fought with her sister and others like her to bring their plight to the president’s attention. “It wasn’t so much what he said. I teared up when I saw everybody stand up and cheer. They were cheering for us. They were cheering for something we did,” Pacheco told VOXXI.
“It was something extremely courageous for the president to have done, especially in an election year. It could have gone the wrong way for him,” Pacheco said. “But don’t let anyone tell you that it was the president who woke up one day and said ‘I think I’ll do this.’ He was feeling the heat. Time magazine was coming out with 28 faces saying ‘We Are Americans’ and it was not going to stop. He was forced to do something because of everything we did.”
What she wouldn’t do is go on stage for Obama.
“I would have said no,” Pacheco told VOXXI. “As an activist, I could not have said yes. It would be like saying that everything was okay.”
And everything is not okay. Not nearly okay. Last week, the government removed healthcare for deferred action recipients in the administration’s legacy Affordable Healthcare Act. It’s a political move. Republican nominee Mitt Romney is running ads in battleground states that attack the measure.
But Pacheco is still proud of Veliz and how far the Dreamers have come.
“Beni is a good friend. She’s a brilliant and brave woman,” Pacheco said. “We’re dissatisfied. But we have to celebrate the good with the bad.
“Even if she is going to praise the president, even if she says whatever she is going to say, the fact that there is an undocumented person on the stage at a political convention addressing the nation — someone who knows what it is like to be in a detention center, someone who knows what it is like to be stopped by the police and not know if she would ever see her family again — it is a huge historic moment we never imagined,” Pacheco told VOXXI.
“It’s prime time. Not even [Congressman Luis] Gutierrez got that.”