DREAMers have long been driving forces within the immigrant rights movement, sparking the fires that led to the biggest immigration victories in a generation: DACA in 2012, and DAPA in 2014.
Now DREAMers are set to help influence who will become the next President of the United States, too.
Arelis Hernández of The Washington Post highlights Cindy Nava, a New Mexico DREAMer who has recently joined the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as a fellow helping the party organize ahead of the next Presidential election.
Like many other DREAMers, it’s Cindy’s legal status that was ultimately responsible for leading her into the world of politics:
Growing up in Albuquerque and later Santa Fe, she said insecurity dominated her childhood. Her family moved from place to place early on looking for good jobs and stability. She struggled to navigate the complications of her status up until Nava enrolled in a dual-credit program at her local community college in 2008.
“I live in a country that I believe is my home but others don’t see it that way,” she said.
Nava became more involved in Democratic politics and open about being undocumented as she transferred to the University of New Mexico. After visiting the state legislature for the first time, Nava came under the wing of longtime Las Cruces Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Nava and other legislators. Nava, the Dreamer, bridged her advocacy work on immigration to her growing passion for lawmaking.
She became active in Democratic women’s groups and also campaigned for Obama in 2012, reaching out to New Mexico families of mixed immigration status. Nava said she tried to convince eligible voters in a family to advocate for their undocumented relatives.
“Even though you can’t vote, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice,” Nava recalled saying to immigrants in her community. It was a reality the Dreamer said she came to understand in becoming involved and watching the push for immigration reform grow stronger — culminating with the president’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program. She sobbed when she heard the news.
Nava is still waiting to find out if her DACA application will confer the coveted legal status she has sought for so long. Meanwhile, she will be working with the party’s political operatives to craft policy platforms, research and broaden her political skills on social media at the national level.
In a touching moment, Cindy describes meeting with Vice-President Joe Biden after a Cinco de Mayo celebration earlier this year.
In his speech, Biden referred to Cindy and other immigrants as “Americans.” To Cindy, it was a validation of the vibrant contributions undocumented immigrants like her — who are American in every way possible but in paperwork — make to our nation.
Cindy was moved to tears following the speech and in her meeting with the Vice-President:
To the 26-year-old New Mexican, it felt as though he were speaking directly to her. Nava was brought to the United States as a child without documents and knew her immigration status could not only hinder her college and career goals but could also send her packing back to Chihuahua, Mexico at any moment.
But on that day, Nava said, she felt her experience — scrounging for money for college because she was ineligible for scholarships, the never-ending fear of deportation and advocating for immigrant rights in the state legislature — had been validated. After the speech, she met Biden personally.
“He tells me, ‘Oh, I saw it in your eyes, I knew it … you’re a Dreamer, right?’ ” Nava recalled Biden saying. “And I cried and he wiped my tears, he gave me a kiss on the forehead … and I told him that I was very thankful to this country.”
Cindy isn’t the only DREAMer who is set to help influence 2016.
Last month, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced Lorella Praeli of United We Dream had been tapped as the campaign’s new Latino Outreach Director, making her the first DREAMer to work for a 2016 Presidential campaign.
“Bringing Lorella into our campaign is the next step in making sure families aren’t living in fear of deportation, all students have the chance to go to college, and that any comprehensive immigration reform ensures full and equal citizenship,” said Amanda Renteria, Hillary for America National Political Director.
Immigration advocates should celebrate these moves, which affirm that the issues of vital importance to Latino and immigrant voters are set to take center stage as the next election approaches.
“We are extremely proud to have Cindy on our team at the DNC. Her story is an inspiration for all of us about what immigrant youth can achieve despite their undocumented status,” said DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.