Meet Dayana Torres: Undocumented immigrant and model student


Dayana Torres (Courtesy Dayana Torres)

When Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced Tuesday that children of illegal immigrants can qualify for in-state tuition, he highlighted an Arlington County graduate from Yorktown High School as an example of the type of student the ruling would help.

He said:

If we are to have the economic future we want, we cannot continue to place limits on talented students like Dayana Torres, who is with us here today. Dayana was brought to this country by her parents at age 9. Once she entered Virginia schools, she excelled at math immediately, and took only three years to catch up to her peers in English.

During high school, she was a spectacular student, and an active member of her community. She worked hard and was awarded full scholarships to continue her education at Virginia schools. But unfortunately, she wasn’t able to claim them because of her immigration status.

Dayana was one of the lucky ones. She received DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] status and was eventually awarded a scholarship from the Dream Project and is now in one of Virginia’s renowned public universities. If we’re going to fully develop the rich human capital we have in Virginia, we cannot continue to push students like Dayana to the margins of our society and economy.

In an interview, Torres said she was awarded full scholarships at five different universities when she was a high school senior. “But I could not claim any of them because I was not a citizen,” she said.

As a sophomore at George Mason University now, Torres’s tuition costs about $20,000 more than it would cost for other students who grew up in Virginia. She has patched together scholarships and help from her parents and the parents of some of her friends to pay the difference, she said.

The 19-year old is studying computer science, an interest she developed when she was in ninth grade. It was about that same time when her parents told her she was undocumented.

She says she began spending “hours upon hours” online every night researching immigration policy and growing frustrated at how hard it was to find snippets of useful information, as well as a way out of the box she was in.

Now she is interested in developing applications and Web sites that will make it easier for other undocumented people to access helpful information. Mark Zuckerberg helped cultivate that interest when he invited her and other “Dreamers” to California earlier this year for a hackathon.

Torres has become a vocal advocate for immigration reform. She helped start a group called Dreamers of Virginia, and she’s part of an on-campus group called the Mason Dreamers.

There are not very many members of the group right now, she said, but she expects that will change next year, as in-state tuition makes college more accessible to undocumented students.

The new ruling in Virginia will help her, she said, and “a tremendous number of people who are working hard and taking semesters off” to go to college.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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