McKINNEY, Texas - Larissa Martinez worked hard to earn top honors at McKinney Boyd High School. When it came time to write her valedictorian speech, she decided to share a secret she's been living with for years -- she's an undocumented immigrant.
The teen announced her family is in the United States illegally and blamed a broken immigration system for her status.
"After all of these years I have finally mustered up the courage to stand here before you and share a struggle I've had to deal with each and every day ... I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of the United States. I decided to stand before you today and reveal these unexpected realities because this might be my own chance to convey the truth to all of you that undocumented immigrants are people too," she said.
Martinez explained that she moved to McKinney from Mexico City in 2010 with her mother and sister. They escaped a life where she had an abusive and alcoholic father and adjusted to fit in to a new culture.
She said her mother did apply for citizenship almost immediately after they arrived on a tourist visa, but the application is still processing.
"We are here without official documentation because the U.S. immigration system is broken and it has forced many families to live in fear," she said. "I myself have been waiting 7 years for my application to even be processed."
Martinez's speech was met with cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd. She hopes it will help people look at the immigration debate in a new light.
"The most important part of the debate and is often overlooked is the fact that immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, are people too. People with dreams, aspirations, hopes and loved ones. People like me. People who have become a part of the American society and way of life and who yearn to help make America great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice," she said.
Martinez took 17 AP classes in high school and graduated with a 4.95 GPA. She is now looking forward to a full scholarship to Yale and hopes to one day become a neurosurgeon.
Martinez told FOX 4 on Thursday she had no idea her speech would have such a profound effect on Texans.
"I just realized that not being documented meant I had to work harder, that as a Latino, I wasn't representing just myself and my family but the whole community, and I was ready to take that weight," Martinez said. "I never saw it as a bad thing. I always saw it as a blessing."
Martinez said the weight on her shoulders that she felt has been lifted by revealing her immigration status.
"It just seemed like it was meant to be," Martinez explained. "Like I was meant to share that in order to let others know that nothing can stop them."
Martinez says she is in the middle of her application process to become a citizen. In the meantime, she cannot go back to Mexico to visit. If she does, the process would start over and she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
Watch her full speech below (mobile users can click here to see the video). Martinez starts speaking at 21:50 mark.
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