LatinaLista — Benita Veliz has become the national face of the DREAM Act, a bill before Congress that would allow students who were brought to this country illegally as children by their parents to attend college at in-state tuition prices and upon graduation put their degrees to work by granting these undocumented graduates citizenship.
Last week, Benita appeared in a San Antonio immigration court as a result of deportation proceedings being started against her after she was discovered to be undocumented during a traffic stop. She was granted a 3-month continuance.
In the following post, Benita shares with Latina Lista readers her feelings about the court’s decision and what her plans are for the next three months until her next court date.
Latina Lista knows that among Benita’s immediate plans is a trip to Washington DC next week to participate in a national graduation ceremony and advocacy event on Tuesday, June 23 held by the United We DREAM coalition.
The main graduation event will be in Washington D.C., with solidarity events taking place across the country providing support to a group of young people who are eager to work for this country by putting their college degrees to use.
Looking back over the past five months of my life, I stop and wonder, “Is this really true? Am I about to wake up at any moment?”
The reality of my circumstance sometimes seems so vague and unfamiliar. I can almost close my eyes and pretend like everything is still the same. I’m still the happy-go-lucky 23-year-old who dreamt of going to law school and getting married someday. I’m still the over-committed young woman with four odd jobs and three volunteer positions.
It takes only the smallest reminder for me to realize that things are not, and will never again, be the same. The nightmare I think I am dreaming is actually the reality in which I’m living.
I see a police car on the street and my eyes begin to water, remembering that flashing lights were the last thing I saw before the experience that has so dramatically altered the course of my life. I walk into a Subway restaurant and the smell of the soup nauseates me, conjuring up images of the last meal I purchased before being arrested.
In the first two months after my arrest, I spent much time wondering what to do about my situation. “Get married!” some suggested. Others were more realistic in their advice, “Start looking for a job in Mexico. Let me give you the number to my aunt’s cousin’s friend who lives in Saltillo…” But the one piece of advice that most impacted me came from my attorney, “Go to the media”.
The media? Why? Why on Earth would anyone willingly expose themselves publicly at the most vulnerable, most humiliating moment of their life?
As she began to remind me about the DREAM Act, and about how helpful it would be to have faces to represent what it stood for, I made excuses in my mind. “I’m not the most qualified. I am not the prettiest. I have been out of school for three years”. I did not even want my neighbors to know what had happened, let alone the entire world.
When I got home that evening, I began to research, specifically for DREAM Act cases that had been written about in the past. I read story after story of amazing people who had had the courage to step out and share their testimony, in the hopes of putting a human face to the DREAM Act.
I was already very familiar with the DREAM Act, on paper. I could quote, by heart, its stipulations and its legislative history. I could tell you about the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year.
I could talk about the sociological, legislative and budgetary impact of the DREAM Act on the United States. But what I could do now was not only talk about the facts behind the DREAM Act, or say that there were so many young people in America who desperately needed it to pass to be able to achieve their dreams but I could now talk about my own dream.
I could now tell you about how I spent years waiting tables, or tutoring, or making breakfast at 5 a.m. for a small Mexican restaurant, while my college degree sat in a drawer next to my bed.
I could tell you about how I dreamt of going to law school, becoming an attorney, advocating for civil rights, helping bring peace to the world…
It was with this frame of mind that I sat in front of my computer and began to write my story. Tears rolled down my cheeks, slowly at first, building up into a sob that turned into a fervent cry that made me realize, for the first time, that my life would never be the same.
It was this image that came to my mind when I stepped out of the elevator last week at the immigration court to find myself surrounded by reporters and cameras. After appearing before the judge, I was granted a continuance on my case for three months.
Three more months at home. Three more months to fight for the DREAM Act.
I have made up my mind that three months from now, when I return to court, I want to be able to say that I have done everything possible to help the DREAM Act pass. I am going to tell everyone I meet to call his or her Senators and Representatives and ask them to please support the DREAM Act. I am going to be as involved as I possibly can be in helping to push forward, not just for me, but for so many other young people across the nation.
The DREAM Act is my only hope of being allowed to remain in the country. If it does not pass, the only thing I can do is ask for another continuance and hope to be granted more time. My future is still uncertain.
But I do know that as long as I possibly can, I’m going to hope and believe that America is still the land of opportunity. America, my home, the nation I love, is still the place where DREAMs come true.
Unfortunately for me, as much as I love my home, it has always been a “golden cage”. My whole life I’ve been trapped. At the end of this ordeal, I will be free.
The door to the cage will be open. I am going to fly.