As illegal immigration and the future of undocumented workers is hotly debated across the country and within the D.C. region, leaders in Arlington County aren't shying away from recognizing high achieving high schoolers who are also undocumented immigrants.
At the first annual DREAM project awards ceremony June 9, the newly formed nonprofit group honored four Arlington County high school students, all of them undocumented immigrants brought to the country by their parents. (The awards take their name from the federal bill considered by Congress last year that would award permanent residency to undocumented immigrants attending college or serving in the military in the United States.)
The group gave them $2,000 scholarships to use toward college educations. And a crowd of supporters, including the Arlington County Schools Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy, were there to congratulate them.
Emma Violand-Sanchez, an Arlington County School Board member and executive director of the project, says there are four criteria for the awards.
"One is academic promise, two, financial need, perseverance in the face of adversity, and community leadership," Violand-Sanchez explains.
Henry Mejia met all those requirements -- he's graduating as the valedictorian from Yorktown High School, and is headed off to Bucknell University.
He has simple advice for younger students, regardless of their background.
"You have to work hard and be the best you can be," Mejia says.
Violand-Sanchez says she hopes to expand the program next year, because there are a lot of opportunities for students that are undocumented immigrants. "We are finding that private universities are willing to open their doors to these students," she says.
In Virginia, many state universities and community colleges accept undocumented students, but require them to pay out-of-state tuition. Maryland legislators passed a law this year allowing in-state tuition for certain undocumented immigrants -- opponents are trying to put the matter to a referendum.
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