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Texas valedictorian faces backlash when she tweets she is undocumented

Mayte Lara Ibarra hoped to alter American's view of undocumented immigrants when she tweeted about her educational success. She did not expect the response she received.

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    Crockett High School’s commencement ceremony included a speech from Mayte Lara, an Austin high school valedictorian was thrust into the national spotlight after she tweeted her accomplishments, including her 'undocumented' status.
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Seventeen-year-old Mayte Lara Ibarra graduated from Crockett High School in Austin, Texas, as valedictorian with a 4.5 GPA and a full ride the University of Texas.

But after tweeting all of these accomplishments on Friday, the Texas teen received so many negative comments she eventually deleted her Twitter account, all because she included another personal fact: She is an undocumented immigrant.

Although she has a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) permit that provides a Social Security number and allows her to work and study in the United States for two years, she has received a flood of backlash and threats since her tweet Friday.

"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," Mayte tells the Austin American-Statesman. "It is a common trend on Twitter to highlight your success through a tweet like that, and I saw many other students from across the country doing the same and sharing the things they’d overcome, so I thought I’d share mine."

But Mayte has also received support from others who see her journey as inspiring: 

Each year approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from US high schools – and this is completely legal. In the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court ruled in that all children in the US were guaranteed a public school education from kindergarden through 12th grade, regardless of immigration status.

But for most undocumented students, their education ends there. Undocumented students, including DACA students like Mayte, are ineligible for federal aid programs such as FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And in all but 17 states undocumented students are ineligible for in-state tuition rates, even if they graduated from an in-state high school. Less than 100 private colleges offer financial aid for undocumented students.

But Texas is one of the 17 US states that enacted a law to permit certain undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition. As valedictorian, Mayte was also eligible for scholarships under state law. 

"In accordance with state law, Texas universities – including the University of Texas schools – have for decades granted two-semester tuition waivers to valedictorians of Texas public high schools, without regard to their residency status," UT spokesman Gary Susswein told the Statesman. "State law also does not distinguish between documented and undocumented graduates of Texas high schools in admissions and financial aid decisions."

The American Immigration Council estimates that only between five and 10 percent of undocumented high-school graduates go to college, often because they can’t afford it or the schools will not allow them to enroll. 

Many of Mayte's supporters are also in favor of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that "allows current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college or the armed services." 

"One of the biggest hardships I’ve had to overcome was the stereotype of people like me," Mayte told The Statesman. "Many people think that people like me can’t be successful. We have all the odds against us, and I think it’s important to highlight the fact that anything is possible, regardless of your status. I’ve accomplished things that most people wouldn’t think a person with my background could have, and I’m proud of that."

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