CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Benita Veliz, a 27-year-old San Antonio woman whose parents brought her into the country on a short-term tourist visa nearly two decades years ago, became the first undocumented person to address the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night.
Veliz, who graduated from high school at age 16 as valedictorian and double-majored at St. Mary’s University on a full academic scholarship, was nearly deported to Mexico after being pulled over in 2009 for a traffic infraction.
The case was eventually dropped in 2011. But Veliz, who identifies herself as an American and has hardly any connection to Mexico, has become the poster child for a generation of young immigrants rooting for the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would provide them a path to citizenship.
“I know I have something to contribute to my economy and my country. I feel just as American as any of my friends or neighbors,” Veliz said in her Wednesday night address. “But I’ve had to live almost my entire life knowing I could be deported just because of the way I came here.”
Obama’s selection of Veliz to speak at the DNC was a clear reach to the Latino voters his re-election bid needs, and an opportunity to remind them of his own immigration policy: He signed an executive order last month that grants many undocumented youth who entered the country illegally as children — people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act if it passed — temporary permission to stay in the U.S. and work.
“President Obama fought for the DREAM Act to help people like me. And when Congress refused to pass it, he didn’t give up,” Veliz said. “Instead, he took action so that people like me can apply to stay in our country and contribute.”