“Undocumented immigration has slowed, however, the human rights situation has only gotten worse at the border as mom and pop coyotes are replaced by drug cartels looking to expand into new markets as the drug trade becomes more dangerous or less profitable” said the Mexican diplomat. He continued on to talk about how the DREAMers were a loss to his country, because they took their talent from Mexico to stay in the U.S. He did, however, endorse the DREAM Act, along with every other speaker at the venue.
We were in a small room in Charlotte, North Carolina, where an immigration group had put together a meeting. Senator Dick Durbin was there to talk about how Senator Orrin Hatch, who joined Durbin for the DREAM Act because he had his own similar legislation in the works, no longer even votes for it. Several mayors and a few DREAMers had also come out to share their opinion on immigration in a surprisingly small venue considering the speakers.
Meanwhile, across town, Michelle Obama was speaking at the Hispanic Caucus. Later, Eva Longoria, Senator Durbin and President Obama spoke about undocumented immigrants at the podium, and there was a DREAMer on the stage to speak for herself. The Keynote Speaker was Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio. Dolores Huerta was honored at a dinner as a recipient of the Medal of Freedom, and seemed to turn up absolutely everywhere. For the first time, there were over 800 Latino delegates. Clearly, the Democratic National Convention has a strong Latino theme this year.
Outside of the Democrat Party official happenings, Voto Latino held a panel with speakers such as Lawrence O’Donnell, Rosario Dawson, Jose Antonio Vargas, Maria Theresa Kumar and Cecile Richards. Though they spoke on women’s issues, voting rights and other progressive themes, the subject that had the most discussion was undocumented immigrants.
Jose Antonio talked about the trauma of finding out that he didn’t have citizenship as a teenager applying for a driver’s license and the kindness of the woman at the DMV that warned him to never use his green card again. If he had shown it to the wrong person, instead of going on to be a part of a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist team, he may have been deported to the Philippines. After he had become an accomplished writer, a man approached him with an underlined copy of his article, asking him why he thought he could just go get a license despite his status in accusing tones. Jose calmly explained that he didn’t do it to spite him, it was because he needed to pick up groceries and get to work. After that, the man just said “oh” and walked off.
When Cesar, Erika and I had left the panel, we stumbled onto the Undocubus. They were kneeling in the middle of a four-way intersection on a canvas, holding signs reading “UNDOCUMENTED” over their heads. Along the top of the canvas was painted “Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo,” with a monarch butterfly painted in the middle. The group embraced the monarch butterfly with its great intergenerational migration to Mexico as their symbol. On the sidewalk were protestors, lined up and chanting, some of them with a bullhorn. They chanted “Education not deportation,” refusing to leave until those kneeling in the street were arrested. The police struggled to push media, rubbernecks and protestors back from the intersection as a dozen cameras were elevated above the crowd’s head.
Jose Antonio had come out to see the demonstration when word made its way back to the Voto Latino crowd, and Rosario was hugging a tearful protestor. The police pulled up those demonstrating in the street to bring them to a van and ultimately hold them in a cell overnight. “We really need to have better representation, and that’s why we continue to have to keep seeing soldiers of the battle keep going down one by one until finally there is a critical mass to make a difference,” Rosario told nearby reporters as demonstrators were being handcuffed and pulled into police vans. “That’s what it takes,” she said. “For all of you who just got arrested, I want to commend your bravery. Things will change. We are here with you.”
The Latino vote is why Arizona is showing a shade of purple and Texas is predicted to be a swing state as soon as 2016 (an important factor in the potential of Julian Castro). Looking forward to 2016, it may very well be battling Latino candidates, both from Latino-heavy swing states. Mitt Romney is absolutely committed to being to the right of the already-right-wing immigration stance of his party, claiming that Rick Perry had no brain because he offered undocumented children an education. This will hurt them now, and for years to come.
There are many things that Latinos, as well as every other group, will forget between elections. Considering the horrible human rights abuses taking place on the border, waving goodbye to a loved one being sent back to a country filled with poverty and violence they desperately crossed a desert to escape isn’t one of them. This may be an extreme example, but the Latino community is filled with stories of escape and desperate survival. To them, one party extends an olive branch to it’s most sympathetic community members, fragile as it may be; the other, the middle finger of an angry, xenophobic white man frightened of change.