Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among the high profile names who will be speaking at next week’s virtual Democratic National Convention.
But in a twist, the party will also feature teachers, small-business people and health care professionals – in prime-time – telling brief stories about their lives under the Trump administration and why they support a change in Washington.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” says Aldo Martinez, a 27-year-old Fort Myers paramedic who has been selected to speak next week. “Exciting and nerve wracking.”
Martinez is one of the approximately 700,000 “Dreamers,” or beneficiaries of the Obama-era based program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under the program, individuals brought illegally to the U.S. as children who qualified were given temporary legal status.
Martinez was born in Mexico City but came with his parents to Miami in 2006, when he was 12. He graduated from high school in 2014, but wasn’t sure what came next.
“I couldn’t go to college. I didn’t have a job. I was pretty much at a loss. I didn’t have a sense of purpose, I guess you could say,” he recalls.
That’s when he attended a DACA clinic that provided assistance to young people just like himself. He then became involved in the immigrant rights community, applied and later qualified for DACA.
He went on to attend Miami-Dade College for the Emergency Medical Services program, and worked at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
But the Trump administration has different ideas about the program.
After he took office in 2017, President Trump announced that new DACA applications would be rejected and renewal requests would be phased out. That prompted a legal challenge, with the Supreme Court ruling in June against the Trump administration, calling their proposal “arbitrary and capricious.”
After that ruling came down, Martinez was recruited by an immigrant rights group to speak to the media about DACA. He now believes that some of those media appearances made their way to officials with the Democratic National Convention.
The DNC has invited at least nine “everyday” Americans to speak virtually on the convention’s program next week.
“It’s a way that I can give a voice to the voiceless, which is all of us undocumented people. And so I started doing that, and I guess it caught the eye of the DNC,” he says. “And so not that long ago, I got word that they had invited me to be in one of their segments and I said, ‘yeah.’”
Martinez says he believes he’ll be part of a 20-minute segment of the program with other speakers.
“I’m not really sure of the specifics of it. I do know that I’m the only DACA recipient who is a front-line health care worker being a part of the convention,” he says.
Martinez says he doesn’t understand why President Trump wants to end DACA.
“We should be aiming to bring about a permanent solution. Having a work permit for two years is nothing but a band-aid. It’s a step in the right direction. A pathway to citizenship. Well, there is no line to get into. There is no way. We’re in a limbo, in a sense, instead of doing something as detrimental. We should be working towards a permanent solution. This election is right vs. wrong. Not to remove this program.”
Martinez was referring to the fact that DACA recipients had to pay fees to the U.S. government for a work permit every two years. But, in fact, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced that it would reject all initial DACA applications and shorten the DACA renewal period from two years to one year.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said that if elected, he’ll make the DACA program permanent on “day one.”
Martinez said, as of Monday afternoon, he is not certain when he’ll speak virtually at the convention.