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Should Benita Veliz Be Deported?

An American-in-waiting needs the Dream Act. So does America.

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

How will this country be a better place once we force Benita Veliz to leave it?

Veliz, 23, is an illegal immigrant facing deportation, but she is not a criminal or a drain on public funds. In fact, she's a hard-working college graduate from San Antonio who is bursting with ambition—and dreams that she has set aside because her paths to achieve them have all been closed.

Immigration lawyers have told her that she has no hope of avoiding deportation.

Veliz is here illegally, but not by choice. She came from Mexico with her parents in 1993, when she was 8, on a tourist visa. She had never lived in the U.S. before and has lived nowhere else since. By all measures, she is an American, a Texan.

And an impressive one at that. She was valedictorian at Jefferson High School, graduating at 16. She went to St. Mary's University in San Antonio on a full scholarship, double-majored in biology and sociology, volunteered at a hospital, and waited tables.

Her honors thesis was about the Dream Act, a bill that would allow children of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship after going to college or serving in the military. The idea is that America should not expel, but assimilate dedicated young people who are not at fault for their illegal status. The Dream Act seeks to make citizens out of people like Veliz. Bipartisan Dream Act bills have been introduced in Congress, but their future is uncertain.

Veliz wanted to go to law school, but couldn't afford tuition and didn't qualify for federal loans. She now works in a church office in San Antonio.

In January, a police officer pulled her over, saying she had rolled through a stop sign. Veliz says that's not true, but acknowledges driving without a license. She had a Mexican consular ID card, and the officer called immigration authorities. She was jailed overnight.

Nancy Shivers, an immigration lawyer whom Veliz has consulted, says she meets some requirements that might have allowed her to stay in the U.S. She's been here more than 10 years and is of good moral character. But without a qualifying parent, spouse, or child to petition for her, she cannot stay.

Veliz's voice cracks with emotion when talking about her case, but she gets excited when asked about her dreams.

"I would like to go to law school and be an attorney for a few years," she says, "and then after that get into politics on a congressional level."

Instead, Veliz may be facing a long or permanent stay in Mexico, a country that she does not know or belong in anymore.

As for the country she knows and loves, if it were smarter and kinder, like the country we see in old pictures where hopeful families cluster on the decks of ships passing the Statue of Liberty, it would find a way to let her stay.

It would accept Benita Veliz as the American she is.