DREAM Act advocate Benita Veliz made history twice at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night. First, she became the first ever undocumented American resident to address the DNC, or any major American political convention.
Second, she walked off that stage without being arrested.
“I’ve had to live almost my entire life knowing I could be deported,” Veliz said to the assembled thousands of delegates and media personnel.
Veliz is 27 years old. She arrived in the U.S. as a child, without immigration documentation. President Obama’s Deferred Action program has suspended the threat of Veliz’s arrest and exile, for now, but the Obama program hasn’t kept every undocumented immigrant visiting the DNC in Charlotte out of jail.
Prior to Veliz’s address to the Democratic faithful, a caravan of undocumented immigrants on a cross-country freedom ride aboard the “UndocuBus” ended their journey in Charlotte, North Carolina. The UndocuBus activists had picked the Democratic National Convention as the preferred destination to stage a vocal protest for better rights and against the threat of deportation.
The group, true to its slogan “No Papers No Fear,” blocked traffic outside of the Democratic National Convention, chanting and waving signs, the Charlotte Observer reports.
Ten UndocuBus riders were arrested; all risked the possibility of the fate they rode for five weeks to protest—deportation.
“Undocumented and unafraid,” they shouted as police issued warnings and then arrested some of the seated protestors. Actress Rosario Dawson was on the scene when police arrived.
The UndocuBus Ride for Justice movement started in Phoenix, Arizona. Before arriving at the DNC in Charlotte, the busload of about 50 undocumented immigrants took a tour of Southern states that included Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
The group is protesting immigration and deportation policies at both federal and state levels that it contends are unfair and unjust to people who are living in the U.S. as productive, law-abiding residents, albeit without the blessing of U.S. immigration authorities.
“Undocumented mothers, fathers, students, sons and daughters will challenge the champions of hate with stories, voices, and action,” the group’s Web site reads. “Because we’re tired of facing deportation, harassment, and being taken from our loved ones and we’re ready for a new day.”
On Wednesday, all 10 members of the group were released, escaping deportation proceedings.
The UndocuBus demonstrators came to the DNC as an appeal to President Obama and the Democratic party to reform immigration law. The group has previously stated that Republican-controlled states, especially those instituting increasingly restrictive immigration policies, and by extension the Republican Party, had left them out in the weeds.
“We want President Obama to use his executive authority to provide relief for our entire community, students, parents, and all of us,” the group said in a statement after the arrests.
Most of the arrested riders have been in the country for years or decades, some since infancy, according to member bios on the Web site.
Deportations have been on the rise since Obama took office in 2008, the Pew Research Center reports. The Center also notes that more than 8 in 10 of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in America are Hispanic.
At the same time, immigration from Mexico has dropped sharply in recent years, the Center shows.
Just hours after the protesters were released Wednesday, UndocuBus members were at it again, live-streaming more demonstrations in Charlotte, with people chatting in the comments one of the slogans of the group—the appropriately non-ironic “Yes we can.”
Is the UndocuBus an extension of the freedom riders of the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago? When will America know equality? Leave your best estimates in Comments.
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Ben Murray has been a frontline correspondent for Stars and Stripes and a producer on The Deadliest Catch. A normally calm person, Ben gets all kinds of fired up by abuse of power and ignorance in high places. To keep from igniting, he writes about these topics and more and does his best to keep the profanity out of it. But every once in a while... earmuffs, kids.
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