2 Valedictorians in Texas Declare Undocumented Status, and Outrage Ensues
by Foster, on News
By KATIE ROGERS
When Mayte Lara Ibarra, the valedictorian of her high school’s graduating class, revealed her plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin on a scholarship, she did what any graduate would do: She shared her excitement on social media.
Ms. Lara also declared, proudly, that she is undocumented.
“Valedictorian, 4.5GPA, full tuition paid for at UT, 13 cords/medals, nice legs, oh and I’m undocumented,” she wrote in a tweet posted last week, hours after she gave her valedictory speech to fellow graduates at David Crockett High School in Austin.
In an era where the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, has vowed to build a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants and many Latinos are rushing to seek citizenship to vote against him, others are finding ways to raise their voices or step out of the shadows.
Ms. Lara, whose path to the United States was not immediately clear and who didn’t mention her undocumented status in her speech, chose instead to talk about AP tests, proms and pep rallies. But on the same day, a few hours north in McKinney, Tex., another valedictorian, Larissa Martinez, did.
Speaking to her class, Ms. Martinez, who says she’s headed to Yale, declared that she is undocumented, and indirectly addressed anti-immigrant sentiments voiced by Mr. Trump. According to the website Mic, she crossed the border in 2010 from Mexico with her mother and sister.
“America can be great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice,” said Ms. Martinez, according to WFAA, a local ABC affiliate. She told the station that she had a full scholarship to Yale with plans to study medicine.
But some observers saw the students’ decision to express pride in being undocumented as an affront, and criticized them on social media.
In Ms. Lara’s case, the outrage over her tweet led her to delete her Twitter account. One critic, Hillary Shay Davis, who has a daughter who graduated with Ms. Lara, said she believed that the teenager was proud of “taking advantage of the system.”
“I have never thought about deporting a child who graduated from a U.S. high school and fought against the odds to be successful. Until this moment,” Ms. Davis wrote on Facebook. She added, “Something else that I have NEVER thought I would support until this moment is Trump and #buildthatwall.”
Versions of this sentiment echoed throughout social media.
Ms. Lara is departing the Austin Independent School District, where 58 percent of students are Hispanic, and entering a college system where Hispanic students are the second-largest share of the population. The University of Texas also offers support services for undocumented students.
Gary Susswein, a spokesman for the University of Texas, said that federal law prevented him from discussing the cases of individual students, but he offered a statement that said that the university grants two-semester tuition waivers to all valedictorians of Texas public high schools regardless of their residency status.
“State law also does not distinguish between documented and undocumented graduates of Texas high schools in admissions and financial aid decisions,” the statement said. “University policies reflect that law.”
Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and immigration activist who revealed that he is undocumented in The New York Times Magazine in 2011, said that gestures like Ms. Lara’s were part of a larger effort on behalf of undocumented people to be open and upfront about their status.
“Being undocumented is part of her identity, as is being a Latina,” he said Thursday. He added, “For many undocumented people, this is our way of telling people that we are not who people think we are.”
Define American, a project Mr. Vargas started in 2011, holds events and online campaigns where people can share their immigration status, an effort, he said, that was meant to shape the conversation around immigration “so it’s a more ‘human’ one.”
Although people have been using Twitter and YouTube to make their immigration status public for years, Mr. Vargas said he thought the criticism of Ms. Martinez and Ms. Lara was coming at a tense time in the election cycle. In the case of Ms. Lara, he said that people were circulating misinformation, and he referred to the state law granting the waivers to valedictorians.
“This young woman is not taking somebody else’s spot,” he said of the waivers. “She’s not getting special treatment. She is getting that because she graduated as valedictorian, and that’s how it is in Texas.”