April 17th, 2014
06:44 PM ET
9 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.

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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. Wes

    So,, the young lady that came forward to tell her story is unable to get a job, go to school, get an apartment. How is she maintaining any type of lifestyle in America. How did she get into an event with a former presidents daughter and wife, also a former/future candidate for presidents, that recently had a shoe thrown at her. I'll assume the people invited had been vetted. This whole situation screams that the young lady and her story are made up and that she was a plant, giving Hillary an opportunity to be seen in a positive light with voters that support immigration. Almost every event involving "high level" politicians is scripted and this is no different. Its also alarming that the news stories I read everyday seem more like summaries of events and talking points according to whatever party puts it out there and there's very little if any follow up or questions asked by reporters that exist outside of the controlled conversational structure of whatever politician is putting on the event.

    April 18, 2014 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
  2. Chris

    You mean illegal immigrant....So what....is a drug dealer just an unlicensed pharmacist?

    April 18, 2014 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
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