Saturday, June 11, 2016
The New York Times reports on two high school valedictorians who shared their undocumented status in or shortly after their graduation speeches this week. Mayte Lara Ibarra plans to attend the University of Texas Austin on a scholarship, and shared on Twitter that she was undocumented, while Larissa Martinez (who will attend Yale in the fall) spoke about her status and stated, "America can be great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice."
In many ways, Ibarra and Martinez illustrate familiar narratives about DREAMers as hard-working, high-achieving students who reflect the best of American values and help illustrate the brokenness of the federal immigration laws. This narrative is subject to the critique that emphasizing the the innocence and achievement of DREAMers ultimately perpetuates the myth of dividing immigrants into "good immigrants" and "bad immigrants." (See Elizabeth Keyes, Defining American: The DREAM Act, Immigration Reform and Citizenship, Nevada Law Journal, 14 Nev. L.J. 102 (2013), as well as the ImmProf Blog's summary of a recent panel on the politics of respectability in the immigration context, for more on this topic).
The New York Times piece describes the criticism faced by Ibarra and Martinez for their allegedly proud declarations of their undocumented status, such as the allegation that they are "taking advantage of the system." The piece points to a more disturbing narrative, one that has long existed in the anti-immigrant movement, in which no amount of achievement or hard work can ever overcome one's undocumented status -- not even for DREAMers. It is, of course, reflected in Trump's unwavering insistence that the solution to America's complex problems is to build a wall.