The Hill (Op-ed)
By Kevin Appleby
June 15, 2016
It is graduation season and one story that has grabbed the imagination of America is the revelations of two high school valedictorians in Texas. Mayte Lara Ibarra and Larissa Martinez, who both graduated at the top of their high school classes last week, on the occasion of their valedictory addresses revealed their undocumented status to their fellow classmates and to the world. Larissa included it in her speech; Lara shared it on Twitter, only to be barraged by waves of anti-immigrant messages.
In making these announcements, these young women showed us great courage and the human side of the immigration debate---and the great benefit our nation would receive if Congress would finally adopt immigration reform legislation.
Larissa, who is awaiting a decision on her citizenship application, is on her way to Yale to pursue a medical degree; Lara, who is protected under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, is attending the University of Texas on a tuition waiver for valedictorians. No doubt they will succeed and go on to contribute greatly to our nation in their chosen professional fields---should they be allowed to remain in the country.
Of course, their announcements drew criticism on social media, with many threatening to call immigration enforcement on them. But those who saw the strength and courage in their acts understand what great leaders they could be in the years ahead.
They are representatives of hundreds of thousands of young people in similar circumstances who simply want a chance to succeed and contribute to the only nation they have ever known. Why would we want to send such impressive and talented young people back to a country they do not know?
Critics say that the valedictorian position should have been given to a U.S. citizen and not to someone here illegally. This is extremely short-sighted and counter to the greater interests of the nation. Those who strive for excellence, no matter their immigration status, challenge us all to excel, to the benefit of the common good. It is not a zero-sum game.
To be consistent, those who favor the acceptance of immigrants who are more highly skilled and educated, such as in the H-1B program, also should support the best and brightest who are educated on our own soil, especially those who arrived here as children.
It is sad that Congress has yet to pass the DREAM Act, which would benefit thousands like Larissa and Lara. These exemplary young students personify the importance of such legislation to themselves and to the nation. Better yet, bringing 11 million persons out of the shadows through immigration reform legislation would spawn millions of similar success stories, making the country only stronger.
In her address, Larissa said it directly, reminding Americans that undocumented persons have the same dreams and desires to succeed and contribute as anyone else: “The most important part of the debate, and the part most overlooked, is the fact that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are people, too. People who have become part of American society and way of life and who yearn to help make America great again without the construction of a wall based on hatred and prejudice.”
Put another way, to make America even greater we must invest in young immigrants who work hard and desire to be Americans, not deport them.
Appleby is Senior International Migration Policy director for the Scalabrinian International Migration Network
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com