What It’s Like to Tell Hillary Clinton You’re an Undocumented Immigrant

For one 19-year-old, it was an empowering experience.

National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
Add to Briefcase
Alex Seitz-Wald
April 18, 2014, 5:50 a.m.

While the world will re­mem­ber Hil­lary and Chelsea Clin­ton’s ap­pear­ance Thursday af­ter­noon at a girls club in New York City for the pro­clam­a­tion there that the roy­al fam­ily of Amer­ic­an polit­ics is ex­pect­ing a child, for Nova Ba­ja­monti, the memory will be much more per­son­al for a very dif­fer­ent an­nounce­ment.

It must nev­er be easy to ad­mit pub­licly that you’ve been skirt­ing the law for years, liv­ing il­leg­ally in a coun­try you con­sider home. And it must be even harder when the people to whom you’re ad­mit­ting that in­clude someone who might one day be pres­id­ent.

But it was here that Ba­ja­monti chose to share her story, hop­ing it would reach as many wo­men as pos­sible, and help some who haven’t been as for­tu­nate as she has.

“For the first time pub­licly,” the 19-year-old said, stand­ing just feet from the Clin­tons as they answered ques­tions from the girls in the audi­ence, “I want to say that I am an un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rant.” As she con­tin­ued, she got more emo­tion­al, fight­ing back tears and barely able to speak. How can I, she asked, break this “glass ceil­ing “¦ that I can’t even con­trol?”

Clin­ton’s re­sponse was everything Ba­ja­monti, who was born in Croa­tia and moved the United States when she was just five, had hoped for. The former sec­ret­ary of State praised Ba­ja­monti for shar­ing her story, call­ing the young wo­man “in­cred­ibly brave.”

Clin­ton re­it­er­ated her sup­port for com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, in­clud­ing a path to cit­izen­ship, and cri­ti­cized the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives for fail­ing to pass a bill. “I think that’s a big missed op­por­tun­ity for our coun­try,” Clin­ton said, “be­cause part of the reas­on we’re go­ing to do really well in the 21st cen­tury is be­cause we are a na­tion of im­mig­rants. We keep at­tract­ing people like you and your fam­ily.”

For her part, Chelsea thanked Ba­ja­monti deeply for speak­ing out, and for help­ing people who of­ten feel “in­vis­ible” show their faces.

After the event, Ba­ja­monti told Na­tion­al Journ­al that she had been torn up in­side all week about wheth­er to make the an­nounce­ment at the up­com­ing event. Ul­ti­mately, she de­cided she had to. “I’ve kept this hid­den for so many years. How much of a fem­in­ist am I be­ing in re­spect to my­self if I’m not get­ting my story out there?” she said.

Most people around her, in­clud­ing many in the room, didn’t know about her im­mig­ra­tion status un­til she spoke up, Ba­ja­monti said. But the words from Clin­ton, whom Ba­ja­monti said she has long ad­mired, made her feel like she can fi­nally share her story.

“I felt like I was dream­ing. It meant the world to me,” she ad­ded.

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