Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Education > Part I DREAM Act Series: Undocumented student tells her side of the story

Part I DREAM Act Series: Undocumented student tells her side of the story

LatinaLista — Two weeks ago, the DREAM Act was reintroduced in Congress. It is a bill that recognizes that undocumented children, who have lived and graduated from high school or gotten their GED, should be allowed to either enter the military or attend college, receive their degrees and be able to put those degrees to work as they work their way towards U.S. citizenship.
Over the next three days, Latina Lista will devote this space to the DREAM Act. In this first installment, Benita Veliz, an undocumented student undergoing deportation proceedings and whose story has garnered national headlines in publications ranging from The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News to countless media outlets on both sides of the border, shares for the first time her personal feelings about what is happening to her and what she hopes will happen for the thousands of students who are depending on Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

I had heard about it on the news. I had seen it happen to friends before. I knew that it was a real possibility. Still, the reality of my illegal status in the United State—the notion of deportation—was never as real to me as on the afternoon of January 21, a day that changed the rest of my life forever.

Benita Veliz
When I was 8 years old, I was brought to the United States on a tourist visa. It was my first visit to the country. Prior to that trip, all I knew about the United States was that it was a wonderful land, where kids had plenty of toys and everyone had a TV.
I had heard about these things from my cousins, most of whom were born in the US and visited Mexico from time to time. I honestly thought that the trip was going to be a summer vacation.
I brought but two or three changes of clothes and was not allowed to bring my favorite doll. It was not until August rolled around and I found myself sitting in a third-grade classroom that I realized my trip was going to be longer than just a summer vacation.
What I did not realize, however, was that my status in the United States was now that of an illegal immigrant.

Growing up without documentation did not truly become an issue for me until I saw my friends starting to apply for jobs at the local mall and going to driver’s ed.
I was two years younger than most of my classmates, so I was always able to use the excuse, “I’m not old enough yet.” “Why haven’t you taken driver’s ed? I’m not sixteen yet” (I was sixteen as a senior in high school)…or, “I can’t afford it right now.”
Although it was at this time that my illegal status became an issue, it was really two years before that, as a sophomore in high school, that I had to make a conscious decision: Should I let my status become an excuse for giving up on school, or should I use it as a driving force to push me to do the best that I possibly could?
I had always been a good student. Even my first semester in third grade, the first grade I enrolled in at an American school, I was the only student in the class to make the honor roll. I remember my teacher being pretty impressed….”This girl doesn’t even speak English, but she made the honor roll.”
After that first semester, I made straight As throughout the majority of my school years. I knew, however, that if I was to fulfill my dream of going to college, I would need to be much better than just a good student.
It would not be enough to just get straight As. It wouldn’t be enough to just do well on standardized testing. It was then I thrust myself into every activity I could manage.
I became a leader in the marching band, president of the National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Decathlon team. I did as many hours of volunteer service as I could. I began making as close to straight 100s on my report card as I could. I took every single AP class that was offered at my high school, and passed 6 of 7 AP exams.
All the while, without even realizing it, I had become American. I remember meeting people who had just arrived from Mexico at my church. None of them guessed I was originally from Mexico…everyone thought I was American.
After three years of hard work in high school, I was blessed with an amazing, privately funded, full scholarship to St. Mary’s University. (Editor’s note: Benita also was valedictorian of her high school graduating class.) I spent four years working on my Bachelor’s, graduating in 2006 from the Honors Program, with a double major in Biology and Sociology.
Although I was unable to utilize my degrees after graduation, I tried to make the best of my life. I tutored, taught piano lessons, took pictures…any odd job I could think of. All along, I firmly believed one day I would be able to become a permanent resident.
Whenever I felt sad about my situation, whenever I felt like all my education was going to waste, I would remind myself that one day, I would be able to apply for permanent residency. I resolved to live my life without bitterness…things would change someday.
Things did change, but not in a way I would have ever imagined.
On January 21, 2009, I was pulled over for allegedly rolling a stop sign. The officer questioned me, discovered I did not have a driver’s license, questioned me about my legal status and proceeded to arrest me after my admittance of the truth. He informed me that it was the policy of their police department to turn over any person who was in the country illegally.
After spending the night in a detention center, I was able to make bail and was released to await court proceedings. My attorney has informed me that, as of now, there is nothing I can do to fix my legal status.
I cannot apply for permanent residency because there is no avenue for people like myself to legalize our status, regardless of the many years that we have lived in the country, and the fact that we consider ourselves American.
For me, returning to Mexico, and receiving a ten-year ban from re-entering the country, is not so scary because I don’t know anyone there, but because of everything I’m leaving behind. I don’t cry at the thought of being all alone in a place I can’t remember. I do cry when I think I may not be here long enough to go to my best friend’s wedding, which we have been planning and dreaming about for almost a year.
I can’t hold back the tears when I realize I may very well not be there when my grandparents pass away.
I have nothing waiting for me in Mexico. Facing deportation has made me realize that I would much rather continue to live in the shadows as an undocumented person in the US than go to a country I simply don’t remember.
It’s not about being made to leave the land of opportunity, a country with better economical opportunities than the place I was born. It’s not about being made to leave my goals, my dreams, my aspirations.
Quite simply, it’s about being made to leave my home.

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  • Hissy
    April 14, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    She should not have been driving. Why is it that illegals always say that? If an AMERICAN is caught driving with NO LICENSE…they go to jail too!

  • Grandma
    April 14, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Only one question – why did she never apply for citizenship?

  • Dave Bennion
    April 14, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Thank you for writing your story, Benita, and thank you Marisa for hosting the post. I wish you good luck going forward.

  • Donajih
    April 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Thank you for being brave. I work at a high school in Houston and we are arganizing our students…You should join the UNITED We DREAM Coalition…are you on facebook?

  • MaryElizabeth
    April 14, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    This is so sad that Benita had to grow up feeling this way in America. It is embarassing for me to be American and read a testimony of a child this brillant that has become crippled in our education system. If Benita is allowed to continue to grow in America she may be the woman who saves lives or creates lots of jobs through a continued education and her brillant mind and perserverance. Most of all it would be heartbreaking that she would have to return to a country that she does not recognise, a place she would be all alone. She is as American as I am…and I was born in this country and I see Benita no different than I. The opposition will post the same ugly rhetoric claiming that they are protecting their fellow Americans. They have no compassion when it comes to children and they actually promote the separation of familys. We must protect family values “this is something the conservatives have used as a base to all their campaigns” and liberals are always talking about Civil Rights…so there is no excuse for either side but to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Well all I have say is that if we do not protect Benita’s Civil Rights we are not protecting our fellow American’s.

  • Hissy
    April 15, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Also…I would like to add…she should NOT have been allowed to enroll in grade school to begin with. This is why the problem is so huge..whatever happened to school districts? Geez…not even boundies with ANOTHER COUNTRY. No wonder the schools are going down hill and drop out rates are so high. How did she get such fantastic grades if she spoke NO ENGLISH?

  • Marisa Treviño
    April 15, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Hissy, thankfully wisdom does prevail in our country that says all children have the right to an education. To deprive children of an education puts us on a level with those countries that we either hold in contempt or pity. There are many children who start school not speaking English and who flourish in the language within a short space of time. It’s much quicker for younger children to adapt to English than older children. Benita got high grades because she was one of those rare students who applied herself and, I’m guessing, always wanted to please her teacher too. 🙂 As far as not driving, it would be easy not to drive if living in a city like New York City or Chicago where public transit goes everywhere. Unfortunately, in the southwest, cities are so spread out that public transit doesn’t touch every corner in an efficient manner. Benita was driving because, like everybody, she had to get somewhere. Should she have been driving without a license, no. But when you have to get somewhere and there’s no option then wrong decisions are made. For one wrong decision, among a life of outstanding accomplishments, the penalty does seem to outweigh the mistake.

  • Benita Veliz
    April 15, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I would love to join the United We Dream Coalition. I have a facebook group entitleed, “Don’t Deport Benita Veliz”. You can contact me through that, or just on my personal facebook as well. I hope to hear from you soon. I will look for the Coalition on Facebook as well. Thank you! 🙂

  • Benita Veliz
    April 15, 2009 at 11:48 am

    If I could have applied for citizenship, I would have. I hated not being able to put my degrees to work. I hated driving without a license. I consulted several legal professionals throughout the years and did tons of research on the immigration system, to the extent of writing a 60 page thesis on the sociological, economical and political impact of the DREAM Act. I was able to come to one conclusion: there was nothing I could do to apply for permanent residency, let alone citizenship. The current avenues available for people to adjust their legal status in the US do not allow me to apply for any sort of relief.

  • Benita Veliz
    April 15, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I would like to remind you that, despite not speaking English, I was the only student in the third grade to make the Honor Roll. You know how I did it? I got myself one of those little, English-Spanish dictionaries. I sat at my kitchen table for hours and looked up words I needed to for my schoolwork. I talked to my cousins and peers in broken English, causing them to laugh so hard at me I never again repeated grammatical mistakes. I went to the public library and borrowed small chapter books. I read so many of them my own mother started getting mad at me for not “playing enough”. I read and read until every single sentence became clear and I understood exactly what was being said. I sat and watched television in English, even when I couldn’t make sense of the words, until one day, I realized…I actually understood. Within a few months of living in the States, I spoke fluent English. Later in my school years I also learned to speak Japanese and French. Instead of contributing to the drop out rate, I gained national recognition for my high school with my top 5% nationwide score on my PSAT. Instead of making my school “go downhill” I made a perfect score on my TAAS, which used to be the basic assessment skills test for public schools in Texas. I drove without a license because I had no other choice. American citizens who drive without a license are not arrested…they simply can call someone that does have a license to come and pick up the car, then go apply for a license before the ticket is due and have the ticket dismissed. I understand you may think I took “free money” to attend public school. However, funding for education comes through property taxes. Every time rent was paid at the places I have lived, a portion of that was actually going towards funding my education. Just this year, my personal property taxes made my mortgage payment shoot up an extra 500 dollars a month. I did pay…and continue to pay for…my education.

  • Irma
    April 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    This person has to leave and that Nazi guard gets to stay?

  • Horace
    April 15, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    “Hissy, thankfully wisdom does prevail in our country that says all children have the right to an education.”
    Yeah, but I don’t think that my taxes should go to educating Mexicans. That’s the responsibility of the Mexican government. There are millions of children in other countries just like her who aren’t entitled to enter the United States, and avail themselves of an education at the U.S. taxpayer’s expense. Just because her parents smuggled her into this country is no reason why she should gain all the benefits of citizenship. Justice would not be served by making an exception for Benita.
    Sorry, Benita, but you’ll just have to go back to a country that’s different from ours. Your return to Mexico is not unlike the immigrants who come to our country legally. Many don’t speak English, the culture is alien from that which they’re familiar and they are required to adapt to survive. Unless the advocacy bloggers are claiming that Mexico is hell on earth (which they’ll never do), you’ll adapt to your situation south of the border just as have millions of Latin Americans who’ve come here legally to become resident aliens.

  • Horace
    April 16, 2009 at 5:30 am

    “To deprive children of an education puts us on a level with those countries that we either hold in contempt or pity.”
    Then if we don’t tax our citizens to death to collect money to send to Mexico to educate that country’s children, we are an evil country? What’s the difference between children in Mexico or the same children in the U.S. who are illegal? No, if Mexican children here illegally fail to get educated it’s because evil Mexico neglects the welfare of their children. U.S. citizens should not be forced to educate the children of any other sovereign power. And just because the children of such sovereign powers speak English, have lived here illegally due to parental irresponsibility and have an ethnic constituency in this country that aids and abets them, U.S. citizens shouldn’t be force to grant them the benefits of citizenship, any more than we’d give such benefits to visitors to Disney World. Just because it makes people like Marisa, Hissy and ME feel good, the rest of us don’t have to drink their brand of Cool Aid. Listening to their naive little discussions I have to believe that they have all the maturity of 10-year olds,

  • Marisa Treviño
    April 16, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Horace, you’re embarrassing yourself. I gave you more credit than what you’re showing in this comment. Don’t make me regret that.

  • Hissy
    April 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    You sound like an asset to the country… you just did it in the wrong one. If I were in Mexico…could I do all the things you did in the USA without getting deported?

  • Evelyn
    April 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Marisa, I want to thank you again for giving people who hate immigrants a venue to show their ignorance. You cant imagine how many people have come to our side when they are able to read the statements of people behind all the hate.
    I am sure Benita already knows, but I am going to repeat it again.
    Racists are incapable of showing compassion.
    Good Luck Benita

  • Horace
    April 16, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Marisa, I leave it to your sane opposition bloggers to make judgments as to whether which of us is embarrassing him/herself. I’d venture to guess that most of them would say the same of you. Folks, please vote. Those of you who agree with me say “Aye” and those of you who agree with Marisa say “Nay”.

  • Benita Veliz
    April 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I can’t answer your question with 100% certainty because, in all honesty, I have no idea how the Mexican economic and political systems work. I would make an educated guess, however, that you would be able to be educated in Mexico just the same and then work there as well, without getting deported. I say this because I have many American citizen cousins who have spent portions of their lives either studying and or working in Mexico. As far as “doing it in the wrong one”…Hissy I had no choice. No one asked me where I wanted to live. No one explained the repercussions of illegal migratory status. I didn’t do it in the “wrong one”. I did it in the only one I had. I did it in the only country I have ever known. I had no choice where to “do” it. I just did it.

  • Irma
    April 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Why dont people like Horace complain on all the visitors who come to the US for study etc- have all their children born here and then leave with American passports in hand to go back to Europe or elsewhere? People like this never contribute ANYTHING to the USA, and are raised as non Americans by their parents in the home country of their parents. Even worse, they RETURN to the US to pick up a free education, vote in our elections and yes
    go back to the country they were RAISED in.
    Unless, those people, Benita as IS
    American, in every way except where she was born. And unlike all those
    “Americans” whose parents take advantage of the USA- Benita would never to do that – she wants to stay and CONTRIBUTE.

  • Horace
    April 19, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Irma said: “Why dont people like Horace complain on all the visitors who come to the US for study etc- have all their children born here and then leave with American passports in hand to go back to Europe or elsewhere?”
    Because what they did is within the letter of the law. While I don’t agree with the principle of jus solis, that just because someone is born here, regardless of parental immigration status, they are citizens, I have to accept it in the context of the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
    Unlike you Irma, and all of your advocacy friends, my principles don’t change with my personal feelings. Regardless of whether one is pretty or not, that they are Irish/Lithuanian like me or not, rich or poor, our laws are applicable to all, and they shouldn’t be politicized, as Latino advocates would do by their demands for exception by ethnicity.

  • Horace
    April 19, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Irma said: “Even worse, they RETURN to the US to pick up a free education, vote in our elections and yes
    go back to the country they were RAISED in.”
    Your ignorance is showing, Irma. There are tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants in this country who’ve become U.S. citizens and haven’t given up their Mexican citizenship. Many of them go back to Mexico and vote in that country’s elections. Condemn children of former legal resident’s children who return as citizens and you are obligated to condemn Mexican-Americans who remain loyal to Mexico, all the while claiming to be loyal U.S. citizens. Personally, I don’t trust them, because I never know whether they’re looking out for the best interests of this country or Mexico. One can morally only have allegiance to one country without being suspected of disloyalty by the citizens of both. Also, Mexico, is a special case, as we have a common border. Mexico envy’s the U.S. and being corrupt from its leaders to the lowliest policemen can do us much harm by manipulating their dual citizens.

  • Benita Veliz
    April 21, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    To be fair to Irma, I don’t think you two are talking about the same thing. You are talking about people who are legal citizens of the US and who live in the US at least on a seasonal basis.
    Irma is talking about people who just come on a temporary Visa, or even illegally, have their babies here, get them socials and birth certificates and then go back to their home countries.
    Despite the fact that those parents never become permanent legal residents, let alone American citizens, or even live in the US, their children can come to the country as adults and receive all benefits.
    Let’s say for example, a person who has lived their whole life in Mexico but was actually born in the US decides one day to come to the US. They can get here, apply for work anywhere, grants, loans, etc….They can get licenses for driving, passports, welfare, medicaid…anything. All this despite the fact that they’ve never really lived in the US, nor have their parents.

  • Evelyn
    April 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    There are tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants in this country who’ve become U.S. citizens and haven’t given up their Mexican citizenship.
    How would you know? Show proof. Show a link.

  • Irma
    April 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Every European I know that has American
    citizenship also retains the passport of their country of origin.
    This is the stickler, American citizenship should REQUIRE the surrender of the other passport from the country of origin BEFORE they grant American Citizenship.
    I dont believe in dual citizenship- tends to create a class of USERS.

  • Irma
    April 22, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I am Mexican American and I am not loyal to Mexico. My father who eventually became a legal US resident, never voted in
    Mexico’s elections. He felt that his view on their politics shouldnt be counted since he chose not to live there.
    I dont know any Mexicans who live in the US who bother to vote in Mexican election. How many do you personally know ?
    By the way, you must not know many Mexican Americans. As a group, we are not “loyal” to Mexico. It is true, we have some sympathy and empathy for the Mexican people. This is completely natural. I think most Americans who came from somewhere else still harbor
    some affection for their ancestral home.
    Is this loyalty? I think not.
    I for one have often wondered why one part of the Northeastern US still calls
    itself “New England” even though the
    Revolutionary war was fought and won there ! Massachusetts still refers to itself as a “Commonwealth.” I guess they just can’t let England go. And yet,
    no one questions their loyalty to the US.

  • Horace
    April 25, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    “I for one have often wondered why one part of the Northeastern US still calls
    itself “New England” even though the
    Revolutionary war was fought and won there ! Massachusetts still refers to itself as a “Commonwealth.” I guess they just can’t let England go. And yet,
    no one questions their loyalty to the US.”
    “New England” is called that out of tradition, just as “New Mexico”, and the cities of Stoughton, Taunton, Bridgewater, Plimoth, etc. in Massachusetts retain their English namesakes.
    As other Latinos in this blog have said, Mexico is ruled by ruthless and wealthy plutocrats. Mexico, is actively interfering in U.S. internal affairs through La Raza and MALDEF, organizations that claim to represent Latino citizens. Since few Latinos refute the claim that these organizations represent them, it may be assumed that there are many subversive Latino citizens within our borders, people acquiescing to be tools of the Mexican government. LULAC, the oldest of U.S. organizations that claims to represent Latin American citizens, has made outrageous references to the possibility that the border defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is not legitimate. Furthermore, they are suggesting that the treaty be re-adjudicated by other countries. These are good reasons to suspect a degree of disloyalty among Latin American citizens.

  • Panchito
    April 25, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    In order to refute someone, you have to have access to the media. How many Hispanics do you know with this access?
    Also, people do not go around “refuting” organizations which they have no interest in or relationship with.
    I would be interested in seeing the poll data that leads you to believe that the majority of Latino’s support or even know about La Raza, MALDEF, or LULAC.
    Personally, I have never met any Latino that does.
    Your claim is irresponsible.

  • Lea Ortiz
    April 26, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    “Marisa, I want to thank you again for giving people who hate immigrants a venue to show their ignorance. You cant imagine how many people have come to our side when they are able to read the statements of people behind all the hate.
    I am sure Benita already knows, but I am going to repeat it again.
    Racists are incapable of showing compassion.”
    Why are name calling Americans? What is it accomplishing?
    I know many many Mexicans that live in Texas. Yes, they do speak highly of their home country. They are very much a tight knit group of people.
    It only stands to reason that the borders being left open would create other laws from being broken.
    It is a true shame what is happening to Benita. I would not blame my country for this. As, we all have to pay attention to our laws. Anybody can be taken to jail if the proper circumstances arise.
    For this reason alone it is important that parents not put their young children in harms way. It is a true shame she must now pay for the sins of her parents. No amount of perceived wealth or trinkets is worth this young lady’s dignity.
    For the record, I feel no more loyalty to Mexico than to Germany. Both countries are my countries of origin. My allegiance lies in the United States of America.
    Oh and many Hispanics are standing with America.
    Standing Together

  • Irma
    April 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I lived in “New England” for 10 years,
    there is nothing English about it.
    Yes, I do know what is English – I have lived in a variety of places.
    I have never lived in New Mexico, but I know a few people who have. They dont think that New Mexico is anything like Mexico.
    The tradition you refer doesnt exist except as maybe a form of nostalgia.
    Most people who live there these days are in fact not of English descent -mainly Irish ( in Massachusetts) , Italian and other European countries.
    Horace, do not fear that LULAC, MALDEF or La RAZA are working for Mexico behind the scence. You may not be aware of this , but Mexicans view Mexican Americans and by extension , the organizations you mentioned as somewhat removed from
    Mexico. The Mexicans view us as one step away from being a gringo.
    In turn, many Mexican Americans view
    Mexico harbor pity for their ancestral country,but have no real connection to it. Most Mexican Americans couldnt tell you who the last two Mexican president were !
    The disloyalty you worry about simply doesn’t exist.

  • Horace
    April 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    You may call my claims irresponsible but it would seem that millions of Latin Americian U.S. citizens don’t seem to mind letting it appear that LULAC, MALDEF, and La Raza speak for them. Don’t you and others have the responsibility to speak up as a group to declare that they don’t represent you. Failure to permit them from misrepresenting you only cedes your voice to people you disagree with. These people are destroying the Latinos relationship with millions of other citizens yet you do nothing to stop it.

  • Irma
    April 27, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Most Americans would say that the ACLU doesnt speak for all Americans. In the same way MALDEF doesnt speak for all
    Mexican Americans. LULAC is a civic organization – most Mexican-Americans
    are unaware of exactly what that organization represents or does. La RAZA
    is a POLITICAL organization.
    They can speak all they want but they dont speak for me.

  • Glenn McBride
    May 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Evelyn, The Mexican Constitution, Article 30, states that no one born in Mexico can lose their nationality even if they acquire another nationality. There is no loss of nationality and US nationals that go to Mexico and obtain Mexican nationality do not lose their original nationality. This changed in Mexico and the US in 1998.

  • Jair
    June 2, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Dear Benita,
    I recently wrote a ten page research paper, on the struggles of undocumented students in the educational system. Your story gave me a lot of motivation to write about this subject because it is a common example of what many undocumented students go through.
    In my paper I emphasized the fact that many undocumented students have no control over their parent’s decision to come to the United States.
    I also emphasized that undocumented students deserve to be treated as equals because when they have to give up on their education, they have to give up on their goals and dreams as well. I wish you the best of luck.

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