Thursday, August 24, 2006
Hector Vega is co-valedictorian of James Lick High School in East San Jose, winner of a $20,000 National Merit Scholarship and an entering freshman on a full scholarship at Santa Clara University. He didn't speak a word of English five years ago when he arrived from Mexico, but he mastered the language in a year, advanced to honors classes and graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade-point average. Vega is also an illegal immigrant. Tall, soft-spoken and confident, Hector Vega, 19, is making a risky -- some say courageous -- choice in sharing his story and declaring publicly, ``Soy ilegal.'' In the divisive national debate about immigration reform, the young man from East San Jose is offering a rarely heard personal and public voice, representative of the predicament of thousands of children who were brought here by undocumented parents. Among the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, each year about 65,000 undocumented children graduate from U.S. schools, unable to work legally, or qualify for federal school loans and grants. ``I speak on behalf of many that come here in the quest for a better life,'' he said in a valedictory that moved students, parents and teachers to tears. ``I am, like many others out there who never give up their hopes, an immigrant. . . . '' The controversial DREAM Act, a provision in the U.S. Senate-approved immigration reform bill, would give legal status to students like Vega.
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