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Monday, June 6, 2016
Undocumented Valedictorians Stoke Immigration Conversation
The early weeks of June mark high school graduation ceremonies across the United States. Part of the ritual involves speeches from the most academically auspicious amongst each class-the valedictorians. It is the highest honor reserved for graduating students. This week, in Texas, two valedictorians made headlines-and not for their stunning achievements.

Mayte Lara Ibarra, a valedictorian from Austin, and Larissa Martinez, from McKinney, both shared that they were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Ms. Martinez addressed her status in her speech; Ms. Lara in a tweet. And outrage ensued.

In an election climate where the presumptive GOP nominee is promising to build walls and indiscriminately deport undocumented immigrants, these announcements struck a nerve. There is no shortcut to becoming valedictorian, but this did not stop arm chair critics from arguing that the two women were gaming the system. Others claimed the women were taking places reserved for American citizens.

As it stands, many US universities make no query into the immigration status of incoming students. A greater deterrent to undocumented students in higher education is cost-federal and state financial aid programs often do enquire into immigration status, making undocumented students far less likely to tackle the forms ancillary to college applications.

At a deeper level, the ire reserved for two young, successful and talented students holds a mirror towards problematic issues of race politics that plagues college admissions and society at large. A Fox reporter was fired this week after commenting on this story and stating, "I didn't know Mexicans were that smart".

Ms. Ibarra will be attending the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Martinez has been accepted to Yale, and intends to study medicine.

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