“Why bother?” said Heydi Mejia, 18, the daughter.
Why bother: It had become her answer for so many things during the past five months, ever since immigration officials raided their apartment and her senior year became a countdown to deportation. Why bother celebrating a diploma that would mean nothing in her new life, with friends she might not see again, who wore class T-shirts that read: “Bring on Tomorrow!” and traded tips about decorating their dorm rooms?
“For me, this week feels more like a dead end,” Mejia said.
She would graduate from Meadowbrook High School on Friday, her blue gown decorated with awards from the National Honor Society, the school’s AP program and the Virginia governor.
She was scheduled to be deported to Guatemala a few days later.
In the election-year debate over immigration reform, the situation Mejia is in has become one of the most debated of all. What should the United States do with illegal immigrants who come to the country as children, grow up here, break no laws and want to remain? In Mejia’s case, what should be done with an illegal immigrant who came to the country at age 4; who speaks better English than Spanish; who wants to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and become a nurse; whose knowledge about modern Guatemala comes in part from what she’s read on Wikipedia?
Republicans and Democrats have drafted legislative proposals that would grant permanent residency to top students, but so far no bill has generated enough support to become law. In an attempt at a temporary solution, President Obama has instructed immigration officials to review cases and grant leniency to a small number of the most deserving students. Now a process that was once a simple matter of legal or illegal has become a question of merit.
A salutatorian from Texas was granted a last-minute reprieve after 2,000 people rallied on her behalf. A valedictorian in Miami avoided deportation in March by collecting 100,000 signatures and traveling to Washington for a news conference with a Republican congressman.
But what happens when you’re ranked No. 22 at a suburban high school outside Richmond, where politicians haven’t responded to your calls and school officials aren’t sure whether to spell your name Heydi or Heidi?
Late this spring, while her friends stayed late after AP classes to fill out college applications, Mejia and her mother hired an immigration lawyer in Manassas to file a motion to reopen their case. The lawyer explained that nothing in the law offered Mejia reason to hope. Democrats had yet to pass their Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship for students who came to the country as minors and completed two years of college or military service. A Republican congressman had only recently introduced the Stars Act, which would give illegal immigrants a chance to finish college and earn permanent residency.