5 Questions For: Immigration advocate Benita Veliz, on being a DREAMer and nearly being deported
The day after her appearance at the convention, Benita Veliz wanted to be clear: not everyone who gets deported is a DREAMer.
“Not everyone who is in removal proceedings should be allowed to stay in the United States,” the DREAM Act advocate at a press conference Thursday. “I was put in what’s called the Criminal Alien Program into removal proceedings, and I was there with some of the people who where there, and they legitimately needed to be deported, and I’m not saying that in a mean way or in a cruel way. I’m saying that if someone has committed a serious crime, that I do think it’s in the best interests of the American people to deport them.”
Veliz, a graduate of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio Texas, said she was in danger of deportation because of a traffic stop; she was picked up for failing to make a full stop at a red light. She talked to Raw Story Thursday about her experiences both facing the prospect of deportation and preparing to become the first undocumented immigrant to speak to a national political convention in the U.S.
Raw Story: What went through your mind as you were about to speak Wednesday?
Veliz: It’s definitely nerve-wracking. I kept thinking things like, ‘Don’t trip, don’t fall,’ you know, the practicalities. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think what an honor and a privilege it was to be able to come and represent DREAMers. I thought back to being in middle school and sitting in my room and thinking about what it was like to be undocumented and being in high school and crying because I thought I wasn’t gonna be able to go to college. I felt like last night, in some way, was a redemption for all of that, a reminder that all of those years and all of that hard work and all of that effort did pay off. Maybe not in the way that I initially wanted it to, in terms of being able to get a job [due to my immigration status], but in a much larger, different platform.
Raw Story: People don’t get to hear a lot from immigrants about their experiences in positions like you were in.
Veliz: It was definitely very challenging. I never thought that I would be put into removal proceedings, but I was. The bottom line is that, when the administration clearly established a commitment to putting into removal proceedings only those people who are criminals, and only those people who should be removed from the country, I think they clearly showed a commitment to do what’s best for America. Because ultimately, being in removal, being in deportation is not only costly, it’s counter-productive for the country when we deport young people who contribute and give back to our communities.
Raw Story: How badly do you think immigrants get painted with a wide brush?
Veliz: There has been, for a very long time, a stereotypical idea of what an immigrant is. I remember, when I first started talking about the DREAM Act and sharing my story, a lot of people couldn’t even believe that I was undocumented. Just because I didn’t have an accent, or just because I have dark-colored skin, or because I’ve never been a migrant worker. In any case, I really think this is what it’s all about – breaking that stereotype and showing that the undocumented immigrant is not just what Americans thought for the longest time, but rather, we are a contributing, working, young society that is ready to give back to our communities.
Raw Story: Latinos are in the spotlight this year on both sides of the political fence. What are your observations on seeing not only Julian Castro here, but someone like Ted Cruz – also from Texas – and Marco Rubio on the other side of the aisle, and seeing Latinos emerge like this?
Veliz: It’s just a pride and joy to see that happen. And to not only see it happening, but to know that I’m a small part of that, as well, is just incredible. I think it again shows how much the Latino influence has increased over the past few years in America, and it highlights the importance of Latinos being involved in the democratic process.
Raw Story: What does this party need to do to retain that influence?
Veliz: I think the President is committed to retaining that influence, because he’s advocating for our best interests, in terms of immigration and in terms of fighting for comprehensive reform, and fighting for the DREAM Act and fighting to allow young people in my situation to be able to stay in the country. So to retain that, [the Democrats should ] just continue to focus and advocate and look out for the best interests of the Latino public.