CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In 2010, Gaby Pacheco was a frustrated college student planning a 1,055-mile protest walk from Florida to Washington, D.C.
The leaders and policy directors of most of the country's largest Latino Civil Rights organizations -- the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and others -- told Pacheco that the plan she had made with three other college students to march from South Florida, though the old South and to the capital, was an unreasonably dangerous "suicide mission" -- unlikely to move hearts and minds, or change public policy.
This week, Pacheco has been a featured panel speaker at no less than four different events staged at the Democratic National Convention, and she is one of several young undocumented students who have been lauded by Latino political operatives, consultants, long-time activists, community organizers, delegates and other party faithful gathered in Charlotte. One young undocumented woman, Benita Veliz, even gave a speech on the DNC's main stage Wednesday night.
The Dream Act movement, and the young undocumented immigrants pushing Congress to pass the immigration reform legislation, have entered the political mainstream.
Dreamers -- the term often used to describe young undocumented individuals brought to the country as children -- often have few, if any, legal avenues to work, attend college or obtain a driver's license or other essential components of an adult life in the United States. But, they also often lack the cultural knowledge, family or language skills to make a life in the countries in which they were born.
Trapped between two countries and the contours of what both Republicans and Democrats agree is the nation's broken immigration system, thousands have become active and vocal protestors, lobbyists and advocates for the Dream Act. The Dream Act's exact contents have varied over the last decade, but the bill has failed several times. Most versions have attempted to create a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, some of the nation's most affluent and politically powerful Latinos gathered at a Charlotte luncheon to honor Democratic National Convention chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Many in the room hailed from families that have lived in the United States for three, four, five or more generations and are active in Democratic Party politics.
But Villaraigosa suggested that the audience take a moment to recognize the unyielding protests and lobbying efforts lead by Dreamers. The recommendation brought the audience -- which included United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta -- to its feet.
Later, when Janet Murguía, NCLR's president and CEO, took the stage, she too acknowledged the Dreamers. She hinted at the Latino civil rights establishment's early reticence about Dream Act, and commended the young people pushing for it despite that establishment's reluctance.
"We are going to stand for you and fight with you now because you have shown us," Murguía said. "You have fought for yourselves."
Most well established Latino civil rights organizations did not support the Dream Act until 2010, said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Chicago, who addressed the DNC Wednesday and mentioned the Dreamers.
Some of immigration reform's senior statesmen feared that any reform would deplete political will for more comprehensive legislation, Gutierrez said. Others thought the Dream Act would create divisions among immigrants. And some believed that the Dream Act would grant relief to an essential element of the immigration reform movement: young, highly organized and often fully bilingual and bicultural students, thereby depleting that reform movement of an essential resource.
When Tea Party members swept into office in larger than expected numbers in 2010, most of the nation's Latino civic groups decided it was time to back the only reform with a chance of passing before the new Congress took office: the Dream Act. When the measure failed in late 2010, Dreamers, legislators, members of the Obama administration and elected officials began talking about an alternative.
On June 15, President Obama announced a deferred action directive, a measure that grants temporary but reneawable two-year deportation reprieves and work permits to young undocumented immigrants.
The trajectory of a protestor and his or her cause into the mainstream is never immediate, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Huffington Post Thursday. But protest movements have transformed the United States, he said.
"That may be quintessentially America," said Jackson, a long time civil-rights activist who was with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was assassinated in 1968. Jackson was in Charlotte this week for the DNC. "In this country, there is the right to dream and to fulfill your dreams."
Also on HuffPost:
Fermin Vasquez serves as the statewide Communications Coordinator for Californians for Justice. One of Los Angeles' youngest emerging Latino leaders, Fermin was a Front Line Leaders Academy Fellow with the People for the American Way Foundation, based in Washington D.C. In 2010, Fermin became the first one in his family to graduate from college, and received his degree in Political Science from California State University, Los Angeles. He was also a founding member and President of Students United to Reach Goals in Education (S.U.R.G.E.), a support and advocacy organization for those that may not have come here with the right papers, but have been raised with the right values. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fermin-vasquez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Laura E. Enriquez
Laura E. Enriquez is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles where she does research on the experiences of undocumented young adults. She is a dedicated scholar-activist and specializes in immigration, race/ethnicity, and gender. She has been mentoring, teaching, and organizing with undocumented young adults for the past five years. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-e-enriquez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Fernando Romero is the Coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California; he is also a co-founding member of <a href="http://dreamersadrift.com/" target="_hplink">Dreamers Adrift</a>, a new media project for undocumented students, by undocumented students. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fernando-romero" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Alma Castrejon was born in Mexico City and came to the United States at the age of seven. In 2008, she graduated from UC Riverside with B.A. degrees in Political Science - International Relations and Chicano Studies. While at UCR she founded Providing Opportunities, Dreams and Education in Riverside (PODER), a support group for undocumented students on campus. In 2011, Alma received her Master of Arts degree in Education at CSU Long Beach. She has been a member of Dream Team Los Angeles (DTLA), a community and student group that advocates for undocumented student rights and immigrant rights, since 2009; she is also an active member of Graduates Reaching a Dream Deferred (GRADD), a group of undocumented graduate students that addresses the needs of immigrant students interested in pursuing graduate education. Alma will be applying to law school in the fall of 2012. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alma-castrejon" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Juan Escalante is an undocumented student and recent graduate from Florida State University. He is a core-member of <a href="http://www.dreamactivist.org/" target="_hplink">DreamActivist.org</a> and the founder of <a href="http://dreamactivistfl.org/" target="_hplink">DreamActivistFL.org</a>; both are online organizations that provide resources for undocumented students across the country. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/juan-escalante" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Nancy Meza is a human being from Jalisco, Mexico. She was brought to the U.S. by her responsible and courageous mother at the age of two and proudly grew up in East Los Angeles California. She is a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. After High School she attended East Los Angeles Community College and transferred to UCLA where she became actively involved in organizing around undocumented and immigrant rights issues with IDEAS at UCLA and Dream Team Los Angeles. She graduated with a degree in Chicana/o Studies and a Labor and Work Place Studies minor in 2010. She is currently an intern at the Dream Resource Center; a project out of the UCLA Labor Center and continues to organize with Dream Team Los Angeles where she is a member of the media and communications team. She is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and her posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-meza" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Erick Huerta is majoring in journalism at East Los Angeles College. As a member of Dream Team Los Angeles, he is one of the coordinators handling the group's communications and social media endeavors. He has lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years and has been chronicling his personal experiences as an undocumented resident for the last eight years on his personal <a href="www.justarandomhero.blogspot.com" target="_hplink">blog</a>. He's also a community reporter for the community of Boyle Heights and an avid cyclist. He can be recognized by his trademark bigotes. He is a contributor to the HuffPost LatinoVoices <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erick-huerta" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Jonathan Perez is a queer undocumented political exile from Colombia, and a Co-Founder of the Immigrant Youth Coalition in Southern California. On why he contributes to the series, he writes, "It is shocking to most, but I don't actually advocate for the DREAM Act. I organize for the rights of undocumented immigrants. I believe that in order to have meaningful changes we must first address the root causes. In order to change our realities we have to build a global movement and a global revolution. I write for the Huffington Post <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em> because it gives me the opportunity to give a different perspective to what the issues of undocumented people are." You can read his posts <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-perez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Mayra Hidalgo Salazar
Originally from Naranjo, Alajuela, Costa Rica, Mayra immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 6-months-old. She is undocumented and has dedicated her life to the immigrant movement in Florida. She lives in Lakeland, Florida where she is an organizer for Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), a grassroots organization founded by undocumented immigrant youth in Florida. She also serves on the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) and United We DREAM (UWD) Board of Directors. She helped start an immigration legal clinic that offers free legal immigration consultation to low-income immigrants in her community and serves as the Clinic Coordinator. She also serves as the Migrant Scholar Advocate for Scaffold the Scholar, a professional development initiative for former farm-worker women working in early childhood education and is a member of the Polk County School Board Diversity Council. She was a project manager for the Trail of Dreams campaign in 2010, a 1,500 walk from Miami, FL to Washington, D.C., demanding that President Obama stop the deportation of undocumented students. Currently a undergraduate college student, she aspires to eventually earn a law degree specializing in immigration law so she can continue to serve the community that taught her to persevere against all odds.
Jesus Cortez is an undocumented graduate student at the California State University, Long Beach College of Education. He grew up in Anaheim, California and is a member of the Orange County Dream Team. He is a contributor to the <em>DREAMers Blog Series</em>, and his posts can be read <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesus-cortez" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Angy Rivera is a Colombian-born, New York-raised undocumented immigrant who started the first undocumented youth advice column, Ask Angy, while a core member at the New York State Youth Leadership Council. She also blogs for DreamActivist.org.