Benita Veliz, who apparently overstayed a tourist visa when she was eight years old, had a few minutes to address the Democratic convention from the podium. Veliz quickly acknowledges that she has been living in the United States without legal authorization and that she is vulnerable to deportation. Given a little more time to explain, she will also admit that she graduated high school as valedictorian at 16, earned a National Merit Scholarship, and graduated from St. Mary’s University at 20, with a double major. She’s not allowed to work in the United States.
Veliz has been an activist and a poster child for the DREAM Act, a proposal that has been circulating for more than a decade which would provide a pathway to citizenship for people just like her. President Obama and the Democratic Party generally have embraced the DREAM Act, and putting Veliz on the program at the convention visibly ups the commitment.
It’s also generated fairly predictable opposition. FAIR issued a press release decrying the contempt for law Veliz’s speech represented. Troll the comments on any of the conservative sites chastising the Democrats (and Veliz) and you’ll find racism dripping out the sides of rhetoric about respect for laws.
Meanwhile, outside the convention, advocates for the DREAM and immigration reform–including other undocumented youth–were explicitly breaking the laws to demonstrate their concerns. Ten people were arrested in Charlotte after committing civil disobedience; they were held for several hours before release. It could have been worse.
The civil disobedience at the convention grew out of a much larger effort, the cross-country tour of the Undocubus, a rolling campaign on behalf of immigration reform. Roughly two months ago, a group called “No Papers, No Fear” has evoked memories of the Freedom Rides half-a century ago, explicitly challenging the enforcement of immigration laws. The activists declare their immigration status–and the risks they are taking–trying to make both the DREAMers and roughly ten million other undocumented immigrants visible. They’ve been staging demonstrations across the country.
Even though Benita Veliz wasn’t in prime time, the advocates–and subjects–of immigration reform are becoming more visible–and bolder–than ever before. Institutional and protest efforts feed each other. Mobilizing the opposition can help as well.