Benita Veliz, a poster child for the DREAM Act, was spared deportation earlier this week under deportation guidelines established by the Morton Memo on Prosecutorial Discretion, issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement this past June.
After her parents brought her to Texas from Mexico at the age eight, Veliz graduated from high school two years early as a National Merit Scholar and as her class valedictorian. She then graduated from St. Mary's University, which she attended on a full academic merit scholarship. But in 2009, she said a small driving error threatened her ability to stay in the only country she knows.
Veliz neglected to make a complete stop at a stop sign, prompting a police officer to pull her over. Deportation proceedings were then initiated when it was discovered she was undocumented.
In a video testimony on YouTube filmed in 2009, Veliz says that she has "absolutely no family in Mexico" and knows "absolutely no one" in her native country. Veliz says in the video that critics should take into account how young she was when her parents brought her to the U.S.
"A lot of people will take the argument, illegal is illegal is illegal and so if you're here illegally you did something wrong and you need to go back where you came from," she said in the video. "But put yourself in the shoes of an eight-year-old child, who has absolutely no concept of what legal is or illegal is ... who could barely write in cursive, much less understand the complexities of the immigration system."
Luckily for Veliz, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton established new guidelines earlier this year that prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are dangerous criminals over that of individuals with no criminal record. Thanks to those guidelines, immigration authorities ended deportation proceedings against Veliz on Wednesday. Nancy Shivers, Veliz's lawyer, said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News that she believes Veliz was spared because she's eligible for the DREAM Act.
However, Veliz's trouble are still "far from over," according to the San Antonio Express-News, because in order to obtain a work permit, she would have to leave the United States and face a 10-year ban before she could return.
While cases like Veliz's are not yet commonplace, she is not the first to avoid deportation thanks to the Morton memo. Luis Enrique Hernandez and Pedro Morales, two students from Georgia who were brought to the U.S. at a young age, both successfully filed petitions to drop their cases based on the memo's guidelines.
Despite the challenges she still faces, Veliz says she is happy to be able to stay in the country she calls home.
"When this started three years ago, I thought that was it. I'd lost hope," Veliz said to the San Antonio Express-News. "I'm definitely happy to still be here."