High School Valedictorian Says She’s an Undocumented Immigrant

June 10, 2016 Updated: June 10, 2016

A Texas high school valedictorian slated to attend Yale University with a full scholarship said in her graduation speech that she is among the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the United States.

Larissa Martinez, after having moved from to the U.S. from Mexico at age 12, graduated McKinney Boyd High School with a 4.95 GPA. She took 17 AP classes over her high school career.

“I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States,” she said, according to NBC News. “I decided to stand before you today and reveal these unexpected realities, because this might be my only chance to convey the truth to all of you that undocumented immigrants are people too.”

“A part of me feels like I was meant to do this,” Martinez said later, reported WFAA. She said it took her hours to put together. 

“[Larissa] said, ‘What do you think?’ And then I realized, that’s what we are. That’s what you are… That’s your story,” her mother said.

Martinez said she hasn’t shared her story with many people.

“We talk about that. We say we’re not going to say nothing,” her mother, Deyanira Contreras, told the station.

Contreras said her family left Mexico City several years ago because her husband was abusive and an alcoholic. She arrived on a tourist visa, coming over via plane. They put in an application for citizenship and are waiting for it to be processed.

“They are my reason to live. So that’s why I do it,” Contreras said. “It’s hard…”

Martinez also went after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, without mentioning his name in the speech. “America can be great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice,” she said.

“I didn’t know if people would pick up on that, but I knew, and that made me feel better so,” Martinez said.

Martinez received both backlash and praise on social media. Some said it represented the “endless potential” of allowing undocumented immigrants already living here to stay in the U.S., but some called for her arrest and deportation.

The Pew Research Center says that the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has stabilized in recent years after decades of rapid growth, and the number has hovered at around 11 million since around 2005. 

“There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014. The population has remained essentially stable for five years, and currently makes up 3.5% of the nation’s population. The number of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, when this group was 4% of the U.S. population,” Pew Research said, citing the most recent figures.

Mexicans make up around half of all undocumented immigrants, it added, but those numbers have been declining. Meanwhile, six states account for 60 percent of undocumented immigrants—California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, Pew said.

Undocumented immigrants also make up about 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. “Among the states, Nevada (10%), California (9%), Texas (9%) and New Jersey (8%) had the highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in their labor forces,” Pew stated.