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Two Undocumented Immigrants Are Valedictorians in Texas

Texas border sign (photo: D. Bekheet)
Texas border sign (photo: D. Bekheet)

Two high school valedictorians in the southern U.S. state of Texas have revealed they are undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Both have received college scholarships - one to Yale, the other to the University of Texas.

Larissa Martinez came to the United States in 2010 with her mother and sister, she said, to escape from her alcoholic and abusive father. The three now live in a one-bedroom apartment in McKinley, Texas.

"I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows," the teenager said in her address to her fellow graduates who did not know about her status.

The Yale-bound student said what is often overlooked in the immigrant debate is "the fact that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise are people, too.... People with dreams, aspirations, hopes and loved ones. People like me."

Martinez also took a swipe at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who has said if he becomes president he will build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out Mexicans. He has characterized such migrants as criminals and rapists.

"America can be great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice," Martinez said in her address to her classmates.

Martinez said her family applied for citizenship shortly after arriving in the U.S. and have been waiting since then for their application to be processed.

Unlike Martinez, another valedictorian, this time in Austin, Texas, waited until after her speech to reveal her undocumented status.

Mayte Lara Ibarra shared the information in a tweet: " Valedictorian, 4.5 GPA, full tuition paid for at UT...nice legs, oh and I'm undocumented."

Ibarra says she came to the U.S. from Mexico illegally when she was about two years old, but has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows children in the U.S. illegally to request deportation deferral. DACA does not, however, provide a path to citizenship, but does allow people to work and receive Social Security cards.

She has received a lot of criticism because she included a Mexican flag in her tweet about her status.

She told The Statesman newspaper "The only reason I used that emoji was to show that I'm proud of my heritage and to show that we can do great things."

"The reason I posted that tweet was to show others that you can accomplish anything, regardless of the obstacles you have in front of you," she told The Statesman.

Both students have received encouragement and criticism on social media. Some people believe the teenagers are breaking the law and prohibiting an American student from attending college. Others have praised the students' hard work.

Yale and the University of Texas have issued statements saying the young women's scholarships are not in jeopardy.