A valedictorian in North Texas got a standing ovation when she revealed her undocumented status during her graduation speech from Boyd High School in McKinney.
Larissa Martinez, who has earned a 4.95 GPA and a full scholarship to Yale University, left Mexico with her family in 2010. She revealed to her teachers and classmates that she is one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants “living in the shadows.”
"After all of these years I have finally mustered up the courage to stand before you and share a struggle I have had to deal with each and every day," she said at the ceremony last week.
"We are here without official documentation because the U.S. immigration system is broken, and it has forced many families to live in fear,” she added. “I myself have been waiting for seven years for my application even to be processed."
Mayte Lara, another Texas high school valedictorian, described herself as "undocumented" in a tweet that went viral and generated a barrage of negative comments online.
Lara graduated on 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."
Because of the backlash, she deleted her account a few hours after posting the message. She spoke out again Wednesday to the Austin American-Statesman saying 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," Lara said.
University of Texas spokesman Gary Susswein said privacy laws prevent the university from discussing individual students but stated that, under state law, Texas universities have for decades granted two-semester tuition waivers to valedictorians of Texas public high schools without regard to their residency status.
He noted state law also doesn't distinguish between documented and undocumented applicants in admissions or financial aid decisions.
Lara has deportation protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program which applies to immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children. It allows them to work and study in the U.S. The status is initially granted for two years and must 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."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.