Editorial: Valedictorians vs. Mr. Trump
In Texas, a Yale-bound valedictorian stood before her high school's graduating class recently and, without naming Donald Trump, illuminated the bankruptcy of his worldview.
At age 11, said Larissa Martinez, she was "nothing more than a girl with an abusive and alcoholic father who had to depend on her mother's strength." Her mother took the children and fled Mexico for the United States, landing in McKinney, Texas, north of Dallas, where, this month, Martinez courageously told her classmates a secret she had harbored since grade school: She is undocumented.
Nervous at the lectern, her graduation medals clinking around her neck, she delivered a nine-minute speech to the graduating seniors and their families that was brave, forthright and true. Undocumented immigrants, she said, are "people like me — people who have become a part of the American society and way of life and who yearn to help make America great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice."
As it happens, Martinez was one of two Texas valedictorians in recent days to reveal her status as an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico; the other, Mayte Lara Ibarra, did so via Twitter just after delivering her own commencement address, thereby triggering a venomous backlash on social media that prompted her to deactivate her Twitter account.
It's useful to put faces to the people Trump wants to round up and deport. Martinez, who earned a full scholarship to Yale, intends to study medicine, hoping for a career as a neurosurgeon. Lara, who graduated from high school in Austin, will enroll this fall at the University of Texas at Austin, which, by state law, will grant her at least two tuition-free semesters - the same scholarship extended to all valedictorians from Texas public high schools, regardless of immigration status.
Lara, brought to the United States at about age 2, is eligible to live and work in the country safely for now, shielded from threat of removal by Barack Obama's administration's policy of deferring deportation for undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. Martinez, who apparently arrived too late to benefit from that policy, says she applied for citizenship upon coming to the United States; she's still waiting to hear, she said.
Trump wields his nativist demagoguery, heedless of the cost to lives, to families, to communities, to the labor market and to promising futures like Lara's and Martinez's. He would strive to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, turning government agents loose on shops, businesses, neighborhoods, schools — maybe even graduation ceremonies in border states such as Texas. Perhaps he could catch some future valedictorian just as she led her classmates in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as Lara did.
The Trumpian theory of the case is that illegal immigrants — Mexicans, in particular — are criminals and carriers of infectious disease. There is no evidence of the latter. As for the former, the evidence suggests the opposite: Young immigrant males are incarcerated at roughly half the rate of native-born Americans.
Of course, facts are not the currency in which Trump trades; his specialties are fear, xenophobia and lies. But young people may be more receptive to the truth, and to a generosity of purpose. Upon delivering this peroration, Martinez received a standing ovation from her classmates:
"In those moments when you need a reason to continue moving forward, close your eyes and picture yourself in the future saying, 'They told me I couldn't, so I did.' "
~ The Washington Post
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