DREAMers Pressure Senator Reid at Netroots Nation, Meet American Hero Dan Choi

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[Video courtesy of Democracia Ahora]

Update: Read DREAMer Matias Ramos's account at firedoglake of why he stood up for the DREAM Act at Netroots Nation.

After last week's civil disobedience action in Washington, D.C., when 21 undocumented youth were arrested for peacefully sitting in Senate Office buildings, four DREAM Act-eligible youth stood in silence during Harry Reid's remarks at Netroots Nation Saturday to ensure he doesn't forget about the importance of passing the DREAM Act this legislative session.

Four DREAM Act-eligible undocumented activists, or DREAMers--Matias Ramos, Yahaira Carrillo, Lizbeth Mateo, and Prerna Lal--had traveled to Netroots Nation to participate in panel discussions, network, and raise awareness of the DREAM Act.

And to participate in direct actions like a mock ICE checkpoint at the entrance to a Civil Rights luncheon in which white Netroots Nation attendees were stopped and asked for ID while people of color were waved through. (How cool is an ICE checkpoint run by undocumented activists?) And then to break the action down beautifully to the video activists who filmed them.

During the "Q&A With the Speaker" segment at Netroots Nation on Saturday at the point that Senator Reid began answering a question about comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, the four DREAMers at the conference walked up solemnly to stand in front of the stage where Reid was sitting with moderator Joan McCarter. Dressed in the graduation caps and gowns which have become the symbol of the undocumented youth movement, they stood in silence to remind Senator Reid of his commitment last week to move the DREAM Act forward once advocacy organizations signaled that comprehensive reform was no longer viable this year.

Earlier Saturday, Lizbeth, Prerna, and Yahaira had presented Senator Reid's staff with 20,000 signatures in support of the DREAM Act collected by America's Voice and the Reform Immigration for America campaign (RI4A), the umbrella coalition for pro-migrant immigration reform. This was a clear signal from RI4A to Senator Reid that it is time to move forward on the DREAM Act.

Senator Reid spoke about how he first learned about undocumented youth who have grown up in the United States from a young girl in Nevada:

Let's talk about the DREAM Act for a little bit.

I first became familiar with this issue in Swift Valley, Nevada. It's a place, an agricultural community in Nevada, 350 miles from here. And I was speaking a number of years ago at a ceremony, had all the kids there, a small little school. But when I finished, there was a girl standing over here and I could just tell she wanted to talk to me but was embarrassed to do so. So everybody cleared out the door and tried to [inaudible]. So I said what's the deal? She said, I'm illegal. My parents are illegal. She said I'm the smartest kid in my class and I can't go to college. What am I supposed to do?
I didn't know. I mean, I didn't know, I didn't know the issue at the time. I didn't think she knew what she was talking about. But I came back [inaudible]. I don't know where that girl is now. Very, very pretty, smart girl. I don't know where she is now. Is she working in the onion [inaudible] farms there. I don't know what she is doing. But whatever she is doing it is not a place she should be if she had an education. So I know what the DREAM Act is about.

To stand up in protest in front of the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, in front of 2,000 progressive bloggers mostly sympathetic to Reid and the Democrats, would be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. Now imagine you lack legal status in the country you grew up in and any public exposure could mean arrest, imprisonment, and exile. I don't know that the significance of what the DREAMers did was obvious to everyone in the audience. But the action shows the extent to which leaders like Lizbeth, Prerna, Matias, and Yahaira have rejected the fear that envelops the rest of the undocumented community. As they like to say, they are "Undocumented and Unafraid."

After Senator Reid finished speaking, the DREAMers met Lt. Dan Choi, the openly gay activist recently discharged from the Army because of his sexual orientation. Choi had also confronted Reid by jumping up on stage at the start of his remarks.

Video blogger CarlosQC filmed this meeting between Dan Choi and Yahaira Carrillo (starting at 0:52), where Carrillo explained that though she had joined the ROTC in high school, she couldn't join the military because she is undocumented. This prompted Choi to lean in and whisper something to her which made her laugh. She told me later that he had told her that "When they are telling you to stop, you know you are doing something right." Choi later told the DREAMers to keep doing what they are doing because they are on the right side of history. Choi and the DREAMers are at the forefront of the efforts of their movements to overturn the unjust laws that target them.

I was happy to hear Senator Reid publicly tell the story of the first DREAMer he met and how it opened his eyes to the problem of people who've grown up in the U.S. but have no way to obtain legal status. I was happy to hear that yesterday he met with Speaker Pelosi to discuss how to move the DREAM Act forward. [Update: Reid's office is now denying that he discussed the DREAM Act with Pelosi at their meeting last week]

I attribute the stark change from his public position just last month that the DREAM Act could only be passed as part of comprehensive reform primarily to the pressure exerted in D.C. and Las Vegas by the brave DREAMers who stood up against the injustice that they and their families live through every day.

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TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.citizenorange.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/891

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on July 28, 2010 1:17 AM.

DREAM Now Letters: Wendy was the previous entry in this blog.

DREAM Now Letters Recap: The CHC Has To Stand With Migrant Youth, Not Against Us is the next entry in this blog.

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