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. Rich

    Illegal immigrant here illegally. Don't worry though the government will reward you for breaking our laws. Make sure you get pregnant as well, then you get all the freebies.

    April 17, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  2. Rich

    Don't worry though the government will reward you for breaking our laws. Make sure you get pregnant as well, then you get all the freebies.

    April 17, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  3. Serious Truth

    Gotta love being politically correct. I am not an "illegal alien", I am an "undocumented immigrant". Yes, that sounds so much better. Kinda like "I am not a Politician, I am an Elected Official". Now that we use different words, everything is better.

    April 17, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  4. Jonesy

    You are a criminal! C R I M I N A L!!!!

    April 17, 2014 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  5. jeff

    "an undocumented immigrant"

    it means you are illegal. get it right. many people go through the proper channel to be here. just because you cheated and got in, it doesn't make you the same.

    April 17, 2014 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  6. the prez

    the repulicans later swooped in and arrested her and her family

    April 17, 2014 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  7. Ron Lane

    All "undocumented" illegal aliens are citizens... of their country of origin. That country, their country, is responsible for them; not us.

    April 17, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  8. tubal22

    "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?"

    I would say.... get documented? Seems like that would solve the problems you've mentioned.

    April 17, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  9. Mike

    There is a disconnect that somehow being undocumented means that we the citizens owe it to them that they be legalized. I came to this nation as an immigrant through proper channels. I paid the fees, endured interviews at the US embassy, and arrived here with my own financial resources. A month or so after I landed, I got my green card. I worked, went to school, paid my taxes, and got my own house. When it was time for me to apply for citizenship, I paid the fees and took my oath. I wouldn't have stayed if it would take an act of congress to legalize me.

    April 17, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  10. HenryMiller

    "I am a huge supporter of immigration reform and a path to citizenship..."

    People like Ms Bajamonti could probably become legal residents—not citizens—fairly quickly if people like Hillary Clinton didn't keep demanding the all-or-nothing of amnesty and citizenship for illegal aliens. No, Ms Bajamonti did nothing wrong, but no way does whoever brought her deserve citizenship.

    April 17, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  11. J R Brown

    She's not an American citizen...why should she be represented in government?????

    April 17, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  12. Stephen

    Good for her! If Nova's willing to serve the country or graduate from college, she shouldn't have to live her life in the shadows.

    April 17, 2014 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  13. atheos

    i am for accepting all illegal immigrants with journalism degrees/aspirations, i think CNN needs to hire illegal immigrants and get rid of these american born journalists...CNN has been a great inspiration in publishing the stories of these people, but now its time they put their money where there mouth is, how many illegal immigrants does CNN employ? and how many of them are journalists? lets get those numbers up people

    April 17, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  14. jdalco

    She is not "undocumented" she is an illegal alien and should have been arrested when discovered. The police and Secret Service at this event should be investigated for not upholding our laws.

    April 17, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  15. yikes

    Go back to Serbia. Seriously.

    Tell your mom and dad "Thanks for bringing me to this country illegally and putting me in this position. But I'm going back to live in accordance with the law".

    April 17, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  16. jdalco

    Why should she be allowed to vote? she is not a citizen she does not get a vote. As an illegal she should be deported asap!

    April 17, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  17. desiderada

    The essential question remains unchanged. How do we resolve the problem posed by a person who gained entry by deceit without penalizing the person who obeyed the law and stood in line waiting her turn? America is a land of opportunity, but it is supposed to be equal opportunity. She has my sympathy in her glass ceiling dilemma, but someone made a bad choice here and that someone needs to learn bad choices can have bad consequences. Now that she's had the courage to declare her illegitimacy, maybe she should have the courage to get back in line with the rest of the dreamers.

    April 17, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  18. tom mix

    huh. Illegal is Illegal. Deport her.

    April 17, 2014 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  19. Ekras

    This poor child. Her parents should be locked away for the abuse they caused by bringing her here. Now because of their actions she is made to suffer. I have no problem providing (non-citizenship) amnesty to these children if they want to become citizens as long as the parents are harshly punished – they are the ones who committed the crimes.

    April 17, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  20. JDM

    Who's fault is this? Not the American People's. Her parents.

    April 17, 2014 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  21. tom mix

    Illegal, means to disobey the laws of the land you are trying to immigrate to. If you had murdered someone would you be free? If you had raped a man/woman/child would you be free? If you had robbed a store would you be free? If you had written bad checks would you be free? If you were a drug dealer/ user would you be free?

    You broke the law and should be proscicuted, IF after you serve your time you can convince a Judge that you deserve to stay. then I'm ok with it. Other wise you should be breaking rocks for the next 35 years then deported. YOU BROKE OUR LAWS..

    April 17, 2014 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  22. Smitty

    Shouldn't Hilly turn her in ??? Its the law. Why wasn't she arrested on the spot ??? Its the law. Don't go around spouting about Obumble care being a law unless this woman is arrested and deported. Oh that's right, Obumbles and his flock pick what laws are ok.

    April 17, 2014 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  23. desiderada

    How do we resolve the problem for those who enter this country by deceit (their own or others on their behalf) without penalizing those who obey the law and stand in line waiting their turns? Those who make bad choices need to learn that bad choices can have bad consequences, and no matter how sympathetic we may be to their plight, they still need to do it right, simply because wrong is wrong, no matter how well intentioned or innocently begun. Now that she has demonstrated the courage to declare her illegitimacy, perhaps she should possess the courage to get back in line with all the other dreamers.

    April 17, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  24. DK

    Sorry. Do what it takes to become a citizen or go back to your country. I don't feel sorry.

    April 17, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  25. What's in that Tea Anyway?

    Oh know...where is the Peter "The Thing" King to call her a "drug pac mule with cantaloupe calves"? I don't know about the GOP/Tea geniuses. The intolerance of the party is without shame, remorse or logic...but their hateful, angry base rallies around the misery of others seeking a better life. SMH

    April 17, 2014 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
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