Saturday, April 15, 2006

Illegal Immigrant, Star Student

The front page of today's Wall Street Journal has a long, fascinating article about an accomplished student at Princeton, who happens also to be an illegal immigrant. Here is a short excerpt:

Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a 21-year-old classics major at Princeton University, has risen from a childhood in homeless shelters and blighted apartments to maintain a 3.9 grade-point average. He has won prize after prize, often taking twice the typical course load. One faculty member, writing a recommendation, predicted "he will be one of the best classicists to emerge in his generation."

Mr. Padilla stands out at Princeton for another reason: He's an illegal immigrant. And two weeks ago, he did something few people in his shoes ever do. He turned himself in.

Mr. Padilla recently won a two-year scholarship to Oxford University in the United Kingdom. But according to longstanding immigration law, if he leaves, he can't return to the U.S. -- his home since the age of 4 -- for at least 10 years....

On his Princeton application, Mr. Padilla checked a box declaring he wasn't a U.S. citizen. Seeing him as a foreign student, a university official said he needed to return to the Dominican Republic in order to apply for a student visa required of foreign students. To find out what the consequences of going back to his home country would be, Mr. Padilla spoke with a lawyer arranged by Prep for Prep, a New York program that helps minority kids who are college-bound. He told Princeton that if he went to the Dominican Republic he wouldn't be allowed back into the U.S.

The university ultimately overlooked his immigration status and gave him a full scholarship, consisting of financial-aid grants that didn't include federally funded programs. Princeton "doesn't take documentation status into account when making admission decisions," says a spokeswoman for the university. She says Princeton has enrolled fewer than half a dozen illegal immigrants in the past four years.

"He could have been from the moon and I would have admitted him," says Fred Hargadon, dean of admissions at Princeton at the time Mr. Padilla applied.