A Texas high-school valedictorian has been thrust into the tense US immigration debate after declaring on social media she is an undocumented migrant.
Mayte Lara graduated from David Crocket high school in Austin this month, posting her picture on Twitter along with: “Valedictorian, 4.5GPA, full tuition paid for at UT, 13 cords/medals, nice legs, oh and I’m undocumented.”
The 17-year-old’s post was tweeted more than 9,000 times within hours but also sparked resentment and outright abuse in a political atmosphere in which Donald Trump has clinched the Republican presidential nomination by pledging to build a wall along the border with Mexico and accused undocumented migrants of being criminals and rapists.
Among the volley of replies were racist cartoons and accusations she had taken “a short cut” to success and enjoyed privileges unavailable to “a white male” in Texas, where local high school valedictorians such as Lara are granted two-semesters’ free tuition to the University of Texas regardless of their immigration status.
“I want all this attention from strangers to stop already,’ the teenager tweeted soon after, adding “it’s kinda scary and [I] want [it] to stop.” She has since deleted her account.
Lara told the Austin American-Statesman the tweet had been intended “to show others that you can accomplish anything, regardless of the obstacles you have in front of you”, she said.
“It was 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.”
The mother of one her classmates wrote on Facebook that Lara appeared to be proud of “taking advantage of the system” and that the post had won her over to Trump’s candidacy.
“I have never thought about deporting a child who graduated from a US high school and fought against the odds to be successful. Until this moment,” she reportedly wrote on Facebook. “Something else that I have NEVER thought I would support until this moment is Trump and #buildthatwall.”
Lara, who said she had lived in Austin for 15 years, has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, which protects certain young people from deportation if they were brought into the country as children. It allows them to legally work and study in the US. The status is initially granted for two years and then can be renewed.
Another Texas valedictorian received a standing ovation from her classmates last week after revealing she too was undocumented during a graduation speech at Boyd High School in McKinney, in the state’s north.
Larissa Martinez entered the US from Mexico in 2010, achieving a 4.95 GPA and a scholarship to Yale University.
“I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States,” Martinez said, telling Mic she had fled Mexico with her mother and sister to escape her abusive father.
She told the graduating class that undocumented migrants to the US yearned “to help make America great again, without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice”.
A valedictorian is usually the highest-performing student in a class who gives a farewell address at graduation.
More Mexican citizens have left the US than entered since 2005, thought to be a result of a deteriorating US job market and stricter enforcement at the border.