Photo: Benita Veliz
Benita Veliz made history by becoming the first undocumented immigrant to appear before a party convention, offering the Democratic delegates in Charlotte a strong defense of the long-stalled DREAM Act, which would help hundreds of thousands of people in her situation.
“Like so many Americans of all races and backgrounds, I was brought here as a child,” the 27-year-old Texas resident told the convention. “I feel just as American as any of my friends or neighbors.”
“President Obama fought for the DREAM Act to help people like me. And when Congress refused to pass it, he didn’t give up. Instead, he took action so that people like me can apply to stay in our country and contribute,” Veliz said.
She was referring to the Obama administration’s Deferred Action program to allow qualified undocumented youth to avoid deportation.
In a telephone interview with Efe a few hours before giving her speech, Veliz said that it was an honor to represent the voices of the “DREAMers” and to tell her story, which was not unique, but that of thousands of young people.
“I admire the courage of the DREAMers in going out on the streets and fighting for the approval of the DREAM Act, and I tell them to keep going until this legislation and comprehensive immigration reform passes,” she said.
In her speech, Veliz said that she graduated from high school at 16 and from college four years later.
She received an academic scholarship from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, where she lives now.
However, when she mistakenly ran a stop sign in 2009, she was arrested by a policeman for not having a driver’s license and her irregular immigration situation was discovered, triggering the deportation process to send her back to her native Mexico.
Veliz’s story became public last year when she became one of the first undocumented immigrants to benefit from the policy of giving priority to the deportation of criminals.
The deportation case against Veliz was administratively closed last November and she is still waiting for a ruling on her application for Deferred Action. And she still does not have a work permit.
Those that qualify for Deferred Action “will keep fighting for reform, but while we do, we are able to work, study and pursue the American dream,” Veliz said at the Democratic Convention.
In a communique, the America’s Voice organization characterized Veliz’s presence at the Democratic convention as a sign of the “political power of the DREAMers.”
“This is a victory for the DREAMers movement. We’re going out on the streets to make our situation known and this (Veliz’s primetime convention speech) is a unique opportunity for the American public to understand what we’re fighting for,” activist Gaby Pancheco said.