DREAMers are shaping up to play a prominent role in next year's presidential election— at least in the Democratic camp.
Bernie Sanders this week become the second Democratic presidential hopeful to enlist a DREAMer to a high-profile campaign position by hiring Cesar Vargas, an undocumented immigrant who became the first without legal status to be approved to work as a lawyer in New York. Vargas has joined the Sanders campaign's Latino outreach team.
“It shows the evolution of the DREAMer movement,” Vargas told me in a phone interview today. “We’ve graduated from colleges, we’ve been politically active on immigration reform. Now DREAMers want to be a part of the 2016 election.”
Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton named Lorella Praeli, a former undocumented immigrant and prominent advocate for immigration reform, to lead up her efforts to reach out to Latino voters. Praeli is also a DREAMer — a young, undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child with their parents.
The decision by Sanders comes as he takes public steps to appeal to Latinos. A Gallup poll in August showed only about 25 percent of Latinos are familiar with the independent senator from Vermont.
Vargas, 31, was born in Mexico and brought across the border by his family when he was five. He grew up in New York and went on to graduate from the City University of New York Law School. He later passed the bar exam, but was initially blocked from practicing law because of his immigration status. In June, a five-judge panel in New York ruled Vargas, who is also a co-founder of the Dream Action Coalition advocacy group, could indeed practice law.
Vargas said he started paying closer attention to Sanders during last year’s Central American refugee crisis. “Like a lot of dreamers, Senator Sanders said we needed to protect those children,” he said.
Coincidences also helped. Vargas said he and Sanders are both from Brooklyn and attended the same high school.
Vargas acknowledged that Sanders has plenty of ground to make up with Democratic Latino voters. “Hillary Clinton without question has the name recognition,” he said. “But it’s important that people in our community know there is someone out there with really cool policies. Our community just needs to be introduced to the senator.”
I asked Vargas if he expected a DREAMer to join one of the Republican campaigns. He said there were Republicans among the activists, but thought it was unlikely. “I do not believe all Republicans are like Donald Trump,” he said. “But unfortunately I don’t think the Republicans would ever bring on board a DREAMer, especially during a presidential campaign. The party has been dragged to the extreme right.”