PHILADELPHIA – Belen Sisa and Ellie Perez are both politically active, both beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – and both were pages for the Arizona delegation to the Democratic National Convention, the first DREAMers in the state to hold the job.
Even though they were working at the convention that nominated one of the major candidates for this fall’s presidential election, neither Sisa nor Perez will be able to vote in that election. But that’s precisely why they were at the convention this week, they said, for themselves and the tens of thousands of people like them in the state.
“There is an undocumented student at every school,” Sisa said. “Although we can’t cast a ballot, it’s important that we’re in the middle of the decision making.”
Perez – who works in Phoenix Vice Mayor Kate Gallego’s office, and said she is the first DREAMer to work for Phoenix City government – said her and Sisa’s involvement at this year’s convention is owed primarily to the progressiveness of the delegation, which is more diverse than it’s ever been.
“Fortunately, we had some people on the delegation who were pretty much like … it doesn’t matter that you’re not a citizen, you should be part of this” Perez said.
Sisa, who originally came to the U.S. from Argentina on a visitor’s visa with her parents, agrees that their presence at the convention was not only necessary, but groundbreaking.
“Normally the spots are filled by children of elected officials or high donors. It’s pretty much unheard of to have regular outsiders come in and take the part,” she said.
As pages, Perez and Sisa were charged with herding the nearly 100 Arizona delegates to and from events and tending to their needs during the often-hectic disarray of the convention.
“We meet the delegation for breakfast, make sure they get their credentials. Coming early, saving seats for delegates, if they’ve got their medication or having some medical issue, if something needs to be picked up, we pick it up,” Sisa said.
Krista Pacion, a Phoenix-area delegate, said she was thrilled with the pages’ level of dedication, saying she has seen them “tapping delegates on the back while they were seated to see if there was anything if they needed, that they had food and that they were comfortable.”
Enrique Gutierrez, communications director for the Arizona Democratic Party, said that in addition to reflecting a pressing Arizona issue, the pages’ helping hands at the convention were an asset to the staff as well as the delegates.
“A lot of the staff members for the state party, even we don’t get credentials,” he said. “They’re actually fortunate enough get credentials. It’s a really incredible thing to have them around.”
Perez believes the real value of their work is promoting greater inclusion of DREAMERS in political decision-making and humanizing undocumented immigrants. This election in particular feels “personal” for her, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repeated threat to repeal DACA would see her deported to her native Mexico.
“I want to be more involved in this election because if the Republican candidate wins, I’ll be gone,” she said. “That’s the end of my life, it truly is. I’ll be sent to a country I don’t know.”