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Reaction is split when Texas valedictorians reveal undocumented status

  • Valedictorian Larissa Yanin Martinez delivers a speech during the McKinney Boyd High School Commencement ceremony at Prestonwood Baptist Church on June 3, in Plano, Texas. (Jae S. Lee/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

A Texas high school valedictorian who described herself as “undocumented” in a tweet touting her academic accomplishments said she didn’t intend to cause offense.

“My tweet wasn’t made to mock anyone. I just wanted to show that no matter what barriers you have in front of you, you can still succeed,” Mayte Lara told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday.

Lara graduated June 3 from Crockett High School in Austin. The 17-year-old’s tweet read: “Valedictorian, 4.5GPA, full tuition paid for at UT, 13 cords/medals, nice legs, oh and I’m undocumented.”

The tweet went viral and generated a barrage of negative comments online, most calling for her to leave the country and expressing anger at her University of Texas scholarship.

Lara said she was unprepared for the backlash and decided to deactivate her account “in attempts to ignore the harmful comments,” she said.

Lara has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, which protects certain youths from deportation if they were brought into the U.S. illegally as children. It allows them to legally work and study in the U.S. The status is initially granted for two years and then can be renewed.

Lara, who has lived in the U.S. most of her life, told the newspaper that one of her greatest hardships is overcoming “the stereotype of people like me.”

Lara said she wants to become a resident and then a citizen and adds that she’s grateful for the opportunities the United States has given her.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said privacy laws prevent the university from discussing individual students, but that under state law Texas universities have for decades granted two-semester tuition waivers to valedictorians of Texas public high school without regard to residency status. He noted state law also doesn’t distinguish between documented and undocumented graduates of Texas high schools in admissions and financial aid decisions.

Meanwhile, a valedictorian in North Texas got a standing ovation last week when she revealed her undocumented status during her graduation speech from Boyd High School in McKinney. Larissa Martinez, who left Mexico with her family in 2010, told WFAA-TV, “We just flew over here with luggage and a lot of dreams.”

Martinez, who is heading to Yale on a full scholarship, shared her family’s story during her valedictory address at the school’s graduation ceremony last Friday.

Fewer than a dozen people knew Martinez’s secret before thousands heard her speech. She said she wanted to raise awareness that unauthorized immigrants are “trying to do it the right way, but we don’t know how” because of a broken immigration system. Martinez has been waiting seven years for her citizenship application to be processed.

“The most important part of the debate and the part most often overlooked is the fact that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are people too,” Martinez said. “People with dreams, aspirations, hopes and loved ones. People like me.”

Martinez moved from Mexico City on a tourist visa six years ago with her mother and little sister for a better life, away from her abusive and alcoholic father.

Immigrants “have become a part of the American society and way of life,” Martinez said in her speech. She said they “yearn to make America great again without a wall built on hatred and prejudice.”

Martinez received a full-ride scholarship to Yale through QuestBridge, a program that matches high-achieving students from low-income families with selective schools.

She said she decided to reveal her status at graduation because she realized it might be the only time she could talk to a large crowd and make a difference. She said it was part of her motivation to do well in school. She has been ranked No. 1 since she was a freshman.

In her speech, Martinez said, “I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States.”

So far, Martinez says, she hasn’t heard negative comments because of her speech, but that she knows they’re probably coming.

“I know who I am and I know who my family is, so honestly nothing they can say can make me feel bad,” Martinez said. “It makes me sad to hear the ignorance in the comments and the racism because I thought that was over in America, so I guess not. It makes me sad to think people actually believe those things they say.”

Martinez said in her speech she is most thankful for everything her mother, Deyanira Contreras, has done to get her where she is today.

“While parents metaphorically move mountains for their children, you literally moved countries for my sister and me,” Martinez said. “Every sacrifice you have made has been for us. That’s why everything I do, I do for you.”

When she came to the U.S. in 2010, Martinez realized education would help her and her family, especially if she got into a school such as Yale. She found out she received a full ride on Dec. 1 and withdrew her applications to other schools.

The summer before seventh grade, she had just arrived in Texas and read a lot of books from the library, she said. When school started, her summer reading helped her, and within a month she advanced from English as a second language classes to regular English classes and then to Pre-AP English.

The topic of immigration would sometimes come up in class, and Martinez said she did not shy away from it.

“I stood up for it enough that people could tell, but I think it’s worth it,” Martinez said. “It’s worth standing up for.”

Martinez has faced struggles being unauthorized, such as having to take the train to Yale rather than fly. It’s a three-day trip, but she decided it was a better option than flying after hearing about a Harvard student who was threatened with deportation when he flew to San Antonio.

Martinez hopes to become a neurosurgeon and wants to continue to be active in political movements for immigration reform. Her involvement with the medical field will also be a platform for her to help make sure patients aren’t turned away because of their immigration status.

She says her mother, who works at a restaurant, has rheumatoid arthritis and has had trouble getting medical treatment.

“Honestly I want to save lives, and I feel like there’s not a better gift you can give than give them more time with their loved ones.”

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The Associated Press and Tribune News Services contributed to this story.

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      • maybe because she’s another example of someone that needs to be deported? valedictorian or not, doesn’t matter. Many, many people fight to become US citizens legally. Her and her illegal parents should be deported immediately.

        • bobbob – It sounds like you either can’t, or didn’t, read the article. Either that, or you don’t understand what legal status means. Do you ever read?

        • Immigration once was good in an empty country. Now in an overpopulated world it sucks and lowers living standards.

        • Millions of people we would actually want in our country can’t make it in! There are millions of talented PhDs, doctors, engineers, etc that are begging from all over the world just to get a green card to stay in the USA, let alone a tourist VISA.

          This selfish girl arrived in 2010 as a teenager, NOT AS A SMALL INNOCENT CHILD, and has stayed in the USA for less than 6 years at taxpayers expense in the public school system and is demanding we give her a chance vs the talent that exists all over the world trying to get in legally and honestly? Give me a break, she’s a self entitled selfish @$#!$ playing the manipulative poor me me me drama-queen game and should be deported and shamed by coming here and gaming the system and committing criminal acts.

  • “I owe it to all of you to be honest.” Yes, young lady in the video, but you also owe it to all of us to cross back across the border, and immigrate legally. I’m probably more liberal than most who read this site. But I am unmoved by her story. Dreaming of becoming an American? Alcoholic and abusive father? Mother worked long hours so she had to watch her sister? All sympathy inducing situations. But, those apply to millions upon millions of non-American citizens, and would neither justify those millions upon millions from coming to the US and illegally staying. Go back, apply, and do it in compliance with US immigration law. Then you’ll have some credibility.

    • She was brought in as a child so she should not be held responsible for the actions of her parents. I think that what bothers people who complain about undocumented immigrants is that the majority of them are hard working, honest and just looking for a better life for their families. In most cases they take the jobs that most people are too proud or lazy to do. Their children are so grateful for an education that they excel in their studies and raise the bar for other kids. As hard as it is for most of us to admit we are just jealous because these kids came from a life of poverty versus kids who are spoiled, lazy and disrespectful.

      • keaukaha, there is hope for our country when there are people like you, who see the good and are charitable in thoughts, words and deeds! Men does not live for bread only …..

        • nicely said hitaxpayer. she is a slap in the face to everyone that had to go through the process to become an US citizen legally.

        • Yes, brought my sister-in-law at age 19 legally after her visa application was turned-down although all of the requirement were met to immigrate under an educational program. The Consul at Kobe, Japan denied her visa for no apparent reasons. After contacting my former commander who was a Colonel in charge at Our Military Government Office who upon resignation from the Army became a Congressman from Connecticut also with my Congress of Indiana, they interceded on our behalf and she was able to enter the US. Simply, there are roadblocks for immigrants outside the contiguous borders many folds, yet south of the border illegally can enter without the hassle we encountered. Mind you I served 2 hitches in the Army and both time honorably discharged. How do you think I feel as a native born citizen being treated in the manner we have? I am sure there are many like me who have to pursue aid in bringing in their kinfolks into our country! Not happy on how our immigration laws are implemented and applied.

        • Yes we came from immigrants who left their bad and overpopulated countries but now ENOUGH IS ENOUGH or do you want equal rights for all billions of foreigners to invade us? The darn country is full and crowded enough!

      • You must live in some bubble to make such ridiculous statements. Obviously you’ve never set a foot in cities like Los Angeles or Chicago where millions of illegals raised anchor babies that established or joined gangs and are murdering each other as well as blacks like savage animals on a daily basis. You should start reading the news outside of your virtual bubble and do some travel to the big cities of the mainland and get a real first hand view of how welcome you’ll be as you’ll drive by all Chicano neighborhoods.

        • Gloating about how she gamed the system. If she isn’t working for Hillary yet she can take her “great legs” back to Mexico and wait in line.
          We must build a wall, build it tall, and deport them all.

      • Being a minor is not an acceptable exception under the law when it deals with issues of immigration. If everyone in the Philippines could walk across the border, there would be anyone left in that country. Excusing or ignoring the law because of geography is not the way to administer a justice system.

  • Young undocumented immigrant with sheer determination and intelligence wants to become a neurosurgeon in order to help others is not wanted and request to leave our country? Yes, kick them back to their country of origins because they aren’t good enough for us? To think we worry about terrorist invasion when dissension among us will be our own ruination!

    • One or two makes it? What about the ones that don’t. The ones that commit crimes and take jobs from the legal immigrants. American citizens have rights too.

        • I agree. Based on her achievements this young lady earns special consideration. This is a success story.
          Now back to reality, the illegals who commit crimes should be taken to the border and released never to return. There are a lot of rotten tamales out there.

        • Why are these “Americans” too lazy? What’s enabling them to afford that attitude?

        • lespark – Well now, thanks so much for your rare show of compassion!

          Maybe the immigration folks should let you decide who meets your standards to remain in the US? That sounds like a plan to me! Why do we need laws, when we have you?

        • aomohoa, and what jobs are those, you bigot? Last I recall, America was growing and doing very well without the illegals. Maybe the illegals could do the same jobs in Mexico that upper class Mexicans are too lazy to do?

        • Any job with FAIR pay will have zillions of American who want to do it. aomohoa, Your claim is ignorant of any facts.

  • It is really amazing just how in your face these people are and how disrespectful they are of our country and our laws
    They should come under the scrutiny of the INS and be processed for deportation.

  • Smart girl, too bad she’s illegally here. If she’s truly genuine and a good person, the morally right thing for her to do would be to volunteer to return to her country of birth. I’m sure she’ll get her fair chance to re-enter into the US legally along with the other millions of PhDs that have been waiting countless years for their turn. In the meantime, she could get her college education completed in Mexico’s world renowned universities instead of stealing a spot from other smart kids that are legally here due to University affirmative action policies. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24271-should-universities-favor-ethnic-minorities/

  • It was kind of dumb of them to reveal their undocumented status instead completing their education while obtaining citizenship…….did they think because of their academic achievements that would make everything thing alright……not too smart for supposedly smart people….

    • You don’t understand that they have legal status, and you are suggesting – from your position of ignorance of the law – that these women are the dumb ones? Got it!

      • Klastri, you should cite the law that states that they have legal status! Far as I can tell, they are illegal, and have admitted to being so. Until you cite the law that gives them legal status, you’re just trolling out of pure spite like every La Raza (Mexican equivalent to the KKK) gang member claiming the USA rightfully belongs to Mexicans.

        • dragoninwater – Then don’t believe me and remain ignorant of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. I couldn’t care less.

          Your comments may be the most sad ones in this forum. And that’s really saying something.

          Your lack of knowledge bridges two languages. La Raza (that means the community, since you don’t seem to know much) Lawyers Association has nothing whatever to do with any other organization with similar names. But since you seem pridefully and willfully ignorant, you won’t believe that either. I don’t care.

          Are you simply incapable of learning anything?

      • The foulest law ever is to grant the here born offspring of illegally sneaked in foreign women to be legal Americans. Thousands women sneak into our country, to give birth at taxpayer expenses. Not only should they be thrown out with their offspring, but also be punished for invading us. We are already enough people and do not want to become a Hispanic country – just look at Southamerica to understand what misery that forebodes.

        • 100% agree, they are called “anchor babies” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchor_baby
          I wish people would have enough courage to write to their politicians to repel the law granting automatic US citizenship of children born to illegals. It’s an absolute disgrace to all law abiding citizens and robs citizens of their entitled benefits.

        • dragoninwater – I’m sorry, but your ignorance seems to actually get deeper by the day.

          Citizenship for people born here is in the United States Constitution. It’s not a law.

          It would be helpful if you learned something. Anything at this point would help.

        • klastri again with hairsplitting jibberish. The constitution is The LAW OF THE LAND. It is a special law that cannot be changed other than by congress, but judges determin if something meets or does not meet that LAW.

        • Allaha – The Constitution cannot be changed by Congress. The Constitution is not a “special law.”

          What grade did you drop out of school?

        • klastri, you should show respect to the country you live in and to US laws. Right now, you encourage and support immoral and criminal behavior. Frankly, you should be charged with treason and I sure hope one day you will if you happen to be a US Citizen, which I doubt.

          But just to get you to choke on more facts, the Constitution can be amended by congress with special provisions like only permitting automatic citizenship if either of the parents are US citizens or LEGAL residents at the very least. At least learn to research the facts because it’s not going to be easy arguing with me without them.

          Some Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution facts for you to choke on…
          “Both Democrats and Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at narrowing the application of the Citizenship Clause. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced legislation that would limit birthright citizenship to the children of U.S. citizens and legally resident aliens, and similar bills have been introduced by other legislators in every Congress since.”

  • I’ve read the remarkably ignorant comments on here, demanding that these young women be deported.

    First of all, these women have legal status. So despite the hate and bigotry shown here, she is not “illegal” or undocumented. Thankfully, people who can actually think, realize that children who are transported into the US are not criminals because they are not responsible for their circumstance.

    Congratulations to Miss Martinez and Miss Lara!

        • This is the end game. All the still livable countries are being invaded by a miserable avalanche of humanity from miserable overpopulated countries which have been ruined collectively by their own citizens. Billions of them are just waiting for a chance to overrun us.

        • haaaaaa, klastri, spoken like a true La Raza (Mexican KKK equivalent) gang member! The exact motto of the La Raza movement is the claim that the Western United States rightfully belongs to the Mexican people and they will stop at nothing even murdering all non-Mexicans to get it back. You guys are not different than the ISIS terrorists.

    • Klastri, you stated that “these women have legal status.” What part of illegal immigrant do you not comprehend? Either you’re a racist Mexican hating all non-Mexicans yourself or you’re completely trolling ridiculous comments. The GIRL said herself she is an illegal alien. Under US law, there are no exceptions whatsoever. The reason they are still here is because no one deported them. Secondly, to congratulate someone that stole from tax payers thousands of dollars is an outright disgrace to all citizens in this country and an insult to all military personnel that risk their lives daily to protect this country.

      • The article states they have DACA status. Whether or not this avenue of protection ought to exist would be a topic for a different discussion. Too bad we seem unable to encourage far more young, intelligent American youth to pursue the level of educational success these young ladies have achieved.

        • She’s lying about the DACA status. She got here in 2010 as a teenager and currently DACA ONLY ACCEPTS applicants that entered before 2007! Besides the point, DACA does not remove the fact that she is here illegally, it only delays the deportation process which isn’t even being enforced to begin with and it does NOT cover her mother. She’s continuing to game the system and many gullible citizens. I would love to see a public copy of her claimed DACA document. I just love to tear into the facts and rip all those arm chair experts that never do the slightest bit of research into the most basic facts.

          One of the current requirements to apply for DACA:
          “Must have lived continuously in the United States since 15 June 2007 to present date”

        • dragon, you’re right, according to this article, only one is stated to have DACA status. The other seems to have a tourist visa, and awaits citizenship. My mistake for incomplete reading.

  • Good story–unfortunately got in through the back door–I dont like the part where she says we have a broke immigration system–that system if it was working would have deported her family a long time ago–that is gratitude for you–get in illegally-take the opportunities that may have gone to legal immigrants or Americans–and then turn around and critique that system that helped her. Beat it! In America and in Hawaii–we should focus our energies and resources on those that are here legally and take care of them first–illegal aliens are someone’s else responsibility. Where is the Aloha? Aloha starts taking care of our families & people first…and I dont feel that we are doing enough of helping our own.

    • I basically totally agree with that. Have all the sympathy in the world. But, take care of our own first. By definition, she is not our own. American citizenship, with all the things that come with it, is a valuable thing, that needs to be protected. The girl in the video demands it, arguing she is somehow entitled to it because she initially and then continuously acted in violation of American law. Doesn’t impress me.

    • hahahaha, good one! But truthfully, the illegals cost more to keep than the homeless. The average illegal Mexican family on the mainland gets over $5,000 per month in federal and state benefits and assistance, a cost far exceeding what we give to the homeless.

      • While at it, let in all the terrorists and mandate all wear turbans. So, in the eyes of real terrorists, who is left for them to terrorize if we all appear as their brothers? 😉

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