April 17th, 2014
06:44 PM ET
4 years ago

Teen describes ‘glass ceiling’ of being an undocumented immigrant to Hillary Clinton

New York (CNN) - When Nova Bajamonti walked into to the Lower Eastside Girls Club in New York on Thursday, she knew the day would be different. Hillary Clinton, an inspiration of hers, was coming to speak, and she was one of 60 girls allowed to attend and possibly ask a question.

But that wasn't the biggest reason Thursday's event was going to change Bajamonti's life. If called on, the 19-year-old student planned to divulge a secret she had kept for over a decade: She was an undocumented immigrant.

So when she raised her hand and was called on by moderator and actress America Ferrera, her stomach sank and she instantly became nervous. Standing in front of a room of her peers, along with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Bajamonti told her story.

"For the first time publicly," she said as she began to tear up, "I want to say that I am an undocumented immigrant."

The admission elicited some gasps and a round of applause as Bajamonti talked about being born in Split, Croatia, immigrating to the United States when she was 5 and living for more than a decade as an undocumented immigrant.

"I don't have the documentation I need to get a job, to vote, which is essential to women representation, to buy an apartment, to take out a loan to go to college, so I couldn't even go to my dream college because of that," she said between tears.

And then came her question: "What do we need to do to put this in priority when it comes to Congress, because this is an extreme glass ceiling to me that I can't even control?"

Bajamonti told CNN after the event that when she sat down and waited for Clinton's response, she was very nervous and amazed by what she had just done. It was all made better, she said, when she heard Clinton's response.

"That was incredibly brave, and I thank you for doing that because it is important to put ourselves in other people’s shoes," said the former secretary of state and prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, should she decide to run.

Clinton went on to endorse immigration reform, especially the legislation that passed the Senate last year but has since failed to go anywhere in the House of Representatives.

"I am a huge supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship and will continue to advocate for that," Clinton said, as she called immigration not only good for immigrants but also "good for us."

"We have jobs that are done, we have cultural contributions that are made, it is good for us," Clinton said. “I believe strongly we are missing a great opportunity by not welcoming people like you and 11 million others who have made contributions to our country into a legal status."

Clinton has spoken in favor of immigration before. At an event earlier this month in San Francisco, Clinton endorsed immigration reform and said the United States had to "work our way towards the kind of future I envision."

Bajamonti’s admission was a raw moment at what was, until that point, a fairly scripted forum at the Lower Eastside Girls Club, a private community center in Manhattan that offers programs and services for girls and young women.

After the event, the smiling teen was showered with support from friends, while others, including people close to Clinton, approached to offer their help.

"It was really important for me as a female to female to tell her how I am being under-represented, and that is why it was essential to bring this to her," Bajamonti said after the event, calling her immigration status her "own personal glass ceiling."

Thursday's forum was the first installment of No Ceiling events that the Clinton Foundation will hold to hear from girls and women around the world. The initiative was inspired by the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, an event that propelled Clinton - then first lady - onto the world stage.

In addition to the girls in the room, questions came from four schools across the country via Skype and from girls online. The topics ranged from who inspired the Clintons the most to how women can participate more in society.

Bajamonti's admission came shortly before Chelsea Clinton made an unexpected announcement of her own: She is expecting her first child.

"Marc and I are very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year," Chelsea said at the end of the event. "And I certainly feel all the better whether it's a girl or a boy that she or he will grow up in a world full of so many strong, young female leaders. So thank you for inspiring me and thank you for inspiring future generations."

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have long acknowledged their desire for a grandchild, and at Thursday's event, the former secretary of state was visibly excited.

Filed under: Hillary Clinton • Immigration
soundoff (127 Responses)
  1. AmericanVoice

    If you are undocumented then go back to across the border becoz you broke this country's law

    April 17, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  2. Brian Smith

    Maybe you need to become a LEGAL resident, duh...

    April 17, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  3. skeptic

    She's documented somewhere.

    April 17, 2014 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  4. ICEman

    Get them on the bus before they breed! We don't need or want anymore illegals in this country, thanks.

    April 17, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  5. Sarah

    I guess I'm going to sound callous, but, why should she get special treatment? Because she was 5 when she came here? It is not much different from any other case where you have a very young child being brought to the United States, and we know that they often stay here for years. It's sad that she hits a glass ceiling, especially if she's completely immersed herself into American culture, but the glass ceiling is there because she doesn't deserve the rights of a full citizen if she isn't one.

    I do think there need to be better citizenship tracks, particularly for people who want to serve the country's military, or are young and do not have family to return to in their home country. But that is largely not the case for many illegal immigrants. We need to get a lot tougher on this issue while also coming up with reasonable solutions for those who want to immigrate legally - but this idea that we should just fling open the proverbial doors and throw a party for any worker, ESPECIALLY unskilled workers, who wants to come on in needs to go away.

    April 17, 2014 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  6. bribarian

    Why isnt she being deported right there?

    April 17, 2014 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. Andrew McCaffrey

    When did we stop calling it illegal immigrant? Is undocumented more palatable to these criminals?

    April 17, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  8. jerry9997

    She is just another one of the 12-16 Million illegal aliens living in this country sucking the life our of our economy and getting free medical care and benefits from money stolen from US taxpayers. The police should have arrested her and turned her over to ICE and she should be immediately deported. Deport all illegal aliens now, In the 30's Franklin Roosevelt deported 2.1 million illegal aliens and we should have the same courage as he had.

    April 17, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  9. Normandy

    she needs to go to her home country and apply legally like everyone else.

    April 17, 2014 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  10. empiricalinvestments

    thats an odd one... glass ceiling because illegally immigrated. I don't know if I want that glass ceiling to break.... ten years from now, I hear that the CEO of exxon is an illegal immigrant.... I, who's never protested, would start a protest.

    April 17, 2014 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  11. outawork

    and Hillary gives her a voters registration form to vote as a democrat

    April 17, 2014 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  12. Rick McDaniel

    Illegal immigrant, who broke the laws of America.

    April 17, 2014 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  13. Bryan

    That's what happens when you break the law by bypassing a nation's immigration laws. Why is NO ONE honest enough to point that out?

    April 17, 2014 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  14. Rusty Shackelford

    "Glass ceiling"? Well I'm a citizen and I think there's a glass ceiling preventing me from being a millionaire, so if this criminal gets citizenship then I demand Clinton give me a million out of her own pocket.

    April 17, 2014 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  15. Mike D.

    So this woman declares she is breaking the law and no one arrested her? Heck, let me go there and hold up half a gram of weed and they would shackle me right then and there. They won't even pick up illegals for processing if caught committing a crime usually after April saying ICE ran out of their budget. What is wrong with people these days?

    April 17, 2014 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  16. Demigod Vadik, CA

    Did immigration arrest her as they should have???

    April 17, 2014 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  17. Jon

    Um, can we please recognize the proper use of the term "glass ceiling"? CNN, you never cease to amaze me. I do feel for this young lady. However, she is an illegal alien, and I will not support her forward movement toward equitable distribution, when I as an American citizen, am not able to fairly attain such a thing.

    April 17, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  18. homie

    Why can't immigrants come here legally, like the rest of us? Pardon the ones who are here, but make sure this EPIDEMIC doesn't occur again!

    April 17, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  19. billy

    I am sure she sailed over on her own? Her parent/guardian should have gotten her documented, blame the system... yeah? How about blame your parents for not getting you documented, so lazy. My fiancé is South Korean and I am going through all the paperwork... the LEGAL way... wtf people?

    April 17, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  20. U.S. going to hell in a hand basket.

    In NO other country do they tolerate, or reward, illegal immigration. (Hence the word ILLEGAL.) Why the U.S. makes these people out to be heroes makes as much sense as making "coming out" as gay heroic.

    If you want to live in the U.S., great, but do it legally and be prepared to support yourself, just like every other country demands of people moving there. Laws are in place for a reason. I've lived in several different countries and I obeyed their laws. I didn't demand special rights or try to change their laws. I didn't ask to be catered to or given special treatment.

    Deport every illegal immigrant, which will open up many new jobs that companies will be forced to pay decent wages for in order to get people to take the jobs. If you want immigrant reform, great. Reform away. But UPHOLD the current laws while they're in place first!

    April 17, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  21. rusty kaars

    Undocumented? There is no such thing as undocumented. The person is an alien criminal and needs to get the *ell out of my country!

    April 17, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  22. Maryellen

    Love this story, please run Hillary no one else should be our first woman President and I can't wait to hear Madam President Mrs. Hillary Clinton.

    April 17, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  23. HillClimber

    Get the alien off my land. The United States of America is for American Citizens.

    April 17, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  24. JSB

    You can do one very easy thing. You can go through the Immigration process JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!!!

    April 17, 2014 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  25. johnk

    How does one who is not a citizen become not only a student in our school system but also live here for over 10 years? How does the govt reform citizenship when they can't monitor undocumented people who live here now. Just how many people live in the USA now who are undocumented? My guess is it is between 15 to 20 million. I am sure that number is low! When will the common voting person realize that continually electing career politicians is a loosing proposition? These people are incompetent marginal leaders. No vision, no real plans to change and improve our future, no practical goals, no business sense, and no financial management. Just about every career politician has never run a business and has a clue of what it takes to do own one successfully.

    April 17, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
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