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UCLA student and illegal immigration

The front-page article, a Column One, was about a freshman struggling to make it in her earliest days at UCLA. The box accompanying the story said in part: "This is the first in a series of occasional articles about a UCLA student, in this country illegally and largely without financial or academic support, during her freshman year."

The very words "illegal immigrant" bring criticism (many readers argue that "illegal alien" is more accurate; some say there's less bias in "undocumented individuals"). Articles focusing on a person or specific situation inevitably bring larger reaction.

In this case, nearly 300 readers commented on the Feb. 2 story of 18-year-old Karina De La Cruz, who was born in Mexico, lives in San Pedro and is the first in her family to go to college. About half of those who responded said they sympathized with the girl, although some of them said they still thought illegal immigrants shouldn't attend public colleges. (Typical response: "I feel sorry for the girl you wrote about. But she still shouldn't be taking public funds for her education.") Others wondered why an article was written focused on someone in this country illegally rather than many others who face uphill battles in school and financially.

"Incredible story," wrote reader JoAnn Burciaga. "My heart just breaks for this young woman trying so hard to change her life. My husband and I would like to know how we can help her. Please let us know if a fund has been created. Is there a mentoring program available?"

Jean Goodrick of Canoga Park had another reaction: "There are thousands of citizens (including my own children) who are trying to attend college and need financial assistance but can’t get in, much less get financial aid. Try writing about them, or perhaps the returning vets who can’t find jobs."

"It's not either/or," responds California Editor David Lauter. "The thinking on why we did the story is pretty straightforward: illegal immigration is a major issue of public concern in California. One aspect of that issue, which has been very hotly debated, is whether students who are undocumented should be allowed in California's public colleges and universities. That issue has been debated in the Legislature and is currently the subject of a court case challenging California's tuition policies."

His and assigning editor Beth Shuster's idea was to explore that public debate by finding out what the day-to-day experience was of an undocumented student.

Reporter Jason Song's own curiousity dovetailed with the assignment. Song covers the Los Angeles Unified School District and says he has long wanted to paint a picture for readers of how overwhelming college can be for a freshman who is unaccustomed to consistent study habits and homework load. Song found De La Cruz through his reporting on LAUSD, and covered her for the last nine months — from right after she got accepted to college to her first days at UCLA.

Says Shuster, "As Jason reported this story, the other angle that emerged was that UCLA admitted a freshman who did not meet the same academic requirements of most of the students there, she had a lower GPA, lower standardized test scores and placed lower in her high school ranking.... So the story was about the trials that this girl faces as both an illegal immigrant without the same access to state and federal financial aid, but also about the challenges someone like this faces in other areas as well ... academic, etc. I think all of this made the story richer."

A number of readers said The Times shows bias by covering illegal immigration in such a personal way; there's the chance readers see sentimentality by doing day-in-the-life-of coverage (as an editor said in an entry on this journal last year about coverage of illegal immigration, "once you introduce a real human being, things tend to get complicated").

Several more reader responses are below.

Brittany Dyer of Venice says she grew up in "a typical, white, conservative suburb an hour northwest of Chicago" and for her, college was mandatory, and the understanding was that she would be paying for her own education. Dyer wrote that she attended four universities in four years to get her degree, struggled with grades and still faces "the daunting process" of paying off thousands of dollars in loans, despite getting some hard-earned grant money. "I'll admit when I read the headline about an illegal immigrant attending college I rolled my eyes, thinking 'oh great another one sponging off the system.'

"I was expecting to read a story about how though De La Cruz is an illegal immigrant and her family as struggled to maintain a life in America, De La Cruz academically excelled and was awarded grants and scholarships to fund her UCLA education. Boy, was I wrong. I can only begin to imagine De La Cruz's daily struggle to support herself financially while maintaining  a full academic load.

"What this all comes down to is a tremendous respect for someone I judged before I should have. If I had the means I'd fund her education. She seems to be one who certainly wouldn't take it for granted, like I know I did (even as I begin to pay it off). I just hope she continues to carry on with the persistence to better her life. Regardless of her citizenship, she is one we should all admire for her work ethic and determination."

Others called it a "sob story." From Brad Madiuk of Aliso Viejo: "I am disgusted by the way the L.A. Times has taken a situation that shouldn't even exist, and sensationalized it. A girl who was given EVERYTHING, has the audacity to complain and be depressed? The LA Times publishing this article says one thing: We support illegal immigration, and we support the USA fully supporting them. So much so in fact, that we will make you feel guilty about not agreeing with us." Madiuk identified himself as a legal immigrant and signed his note, "A disgruntled hard working 'no excuses' American."

Other readers simply asked the reporter if De La Cruz was still in school. Says Song: "The circumstances dictate how many stories we write. I'm hoping to write at least one more this academic year (or more) depending on what happens."

 
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Comments (7)

Where is the sob story about the kid who is doing it right?

The legal immigrant waiting for a chance to come to America.

You know the one who has done the paperwork, has not committed any crimes . Most illegal aliens commit at least one of the crimes of illegal entry, driving without a license, document fraud, id theft and tax evasion.

You know the legal immigrant kid who has learned US history to pass the exam, has to pass extensive background checks, has to pass medical tests (how many American kids have picked up TB from iillegal alien students?), and has to guarantee not to use our social benefits system for 5 years.

Illegal aliens are stealing that which does not belong to them.

They corrupt our society with their lawbreaking.

No one in America, not even illegal aliens, should be above the law.

The assumption is that Ms. de la Cruz has committed some crime by being an illegal immigrant. At what point should she be held responsible for illegal entry into this country. A small child isn't committing a crime when it is carried into the country by her parents. An adolescent can't be expected to abandon her home and family in the U.S. and travel alone to an unfamiliar land in order to comply with immigration law. Was the school girl committing a crime by going to school, pledging allegiance to the American flag every morning through elementary, then middle, then high school? Did she suddenly become culpable for an illegal act when she turned 18 and did not turn herself in to the ICE to be deported to a country she has never known? At what point in her life can we say "you did something very wrong?"

Bettybb,

I think Brittany Dyer's response is the most honest and open-minded. Even if she has preconceived notions about the immigration system, she allows herself to share in De La Cruz's perspective.

You rhetorically ask a question about the potential sob story of the legal immigrant, yet ignore that De La Cruz has not had the opportunity to do all those things you value: take a citizenship test, have access to medical care, etc. And where did you get the idea of legal immigrants not using social benefits for five years?

Why witness such hardwork and dismiss it as unlawfulness? This is an upright citizen and we should give her a chance to regularize her status, not spout and complain about people like her getting coverage from the media.

For more about undocumented students, please visit our blog, www.undergroundundergrads.com

This article is disingenuous at best. You started out to deliberately write a sob story about De La Cruz; now you are backtracking and trying to justify it as simply responding to "current events," an obvious lie. If that's so, where are the sob stories about the American student whose place was taken by De La Cruz in an educational institution that was built and funded by American citizens? No doubt she also got an "affirmative action" entry as a "minority" - ahead of native-born white children whose ancestors may have lived here for hundreds of years and fought and died to build this country. Sorry, but the sob stories aren't working. I save my sympathy for American kids who are struggling now more than ever to make it in a state that has been destroyed by mass illegal immigration.

"A number of readers said The Times shows bias by covering illegal immigration in such a personal way"

Whatever way this country decides to go when dealing with illegal immigrants, there's no way anything can be done without affecting people's lives personally. I deeply appreciate this article because it will help citizens see how much just one piece of legislation will determine so many young people's futures. Many young immigrants in the U.S. have lived here their whole lives, but can't make a future for themselves because they were brought into the Unites States by their parents illegally. Passage of legislation like the DREAM Act will give hard working immigrants like De La Cruz the chance at real life in the United States - the chance that they deserve and so many US citizens take for granted.

And also commenting on MaryJ's post, the University of California does not practice affirmative action in student acceptance. Students are chosen on their merit, not background. They do chose a select few students based on success through overcoming strange and extreme circumstances, but ethnicity is not a factor in those decisions either.

De La Cruz deserves to be at UCLA, along with all other minority students attending UC schools. Playing the race card is honestly a pathetic excuse and comfort for white (sorry if that's politically incorrect) students who don't get into their college of choice.

For those who are angry because the LA Times made them "feel bad" for whatever position they hold, maybe that's the point of journalism. To make the audience think, feel, and evaluate their stances critically.

If you're never forced to confront your opinions and evaluate them what is the point in having them? We should all thank this newspaper for having to courage to actually participate in real journalism!

I was glad to see a story on an undocumented student that did not follow a familiar narrative. There are dozens of stories of the valedictorian undocumented student, but little about the average student who just wants to earn a BA.


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