ABC & NBC Celebrate Princeton Salutatorian Who’s an Illegal; NBC Hails Defiant Illegals

The Tuesday ABC and NBC evening newscasts ran tributes to Princeton University’s salutatorian, illegal immigrant Dan-el Padilla Peralta, and NBC also hailed the efforts of illegals in Queens to defy efforts to crack down on them. At the top of World News Tonight, Charles Gibson fretted, “American dream: A Princeton graduate who rose from homelessness to the top of his class, but could now be banned from the country because he is an illegal alien." Gibson soon touted how “we have an extraordinary story tonight of one illegal immigrant” who was amongst the few able to attend college, specifically “a young man who graduated from Princeton University today near the top of his class. He defied the odds spectacularly. Yet, because he is illegal, he faces an uncertain future.” David Muir explained his plight: "Dan-el is an illegal immigrant, which becomes very important because he's been invited to study at Oxford. And if he goes, U.S. immigration law says because he is an illegal, he can't come back for at least a decade."

Brian Williams ended the NBC Nightly News by trumpeting how Peralta “got over a major hurdle today. He graduated from the Ivy League despite living in the U.S. illegally. He moved here from the Dominican Republic when he was four. His mother was sick.” Just before the admiration from Williams, NBC ran a piece from David Gregory which looked at the immigration debate through the prism of illegals: “You see a neighborhood among the most diverse in the city on the leading edge of this fight. Some are afraid. Luis Amigo owns this bodaga. Here illegally, he says he won't visit his sister anymore, fearing he'll now get stuck in Mexico." Gregory set up “community activist” Ana Maria Archilla: “Leaving really isn't an option?" And before a minister, who didn’t differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants, argued that “we would fail our forefathers if we are not doing what we are supposed to do, to welcome immigrants,” Gregory delivered this chastisement of conservatives, "There is also this appeal: Don't let today's politics change the country." (Transcripts follow)

Obviously, the story of a poor, illegal immigrant who is able to rise to the top of his class at a prestigious college illustrates how the United States is a land of opportunity where hard work leads to success, but in choosing to celebrate Peralta’s achievement as they portrayed him as a victim of immigration laws -- after the networks, which normally prefer highlighting bad news, have displayed no interest in stories about the negative impact of illegals -- ABC and NBC showed how the mainstream media are out of step with the majority of Americans who want a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

An April 28 Daily Princetonian article, "American dream: Padilla '06 rose from poverty to the top of his class. Now he has one more goal: a visa," recounted how a Wall Street Journal article two weeks earlier had revealed Perlata’s illegal status.

The text of Peralta’s Salutatorian address, “Given at the Academic Assembly of Princeton; On the Sixth of June; The Year of our Salvation 2006; The 259th Year of the University.”

For the online version of ABC’s story, "Princeton Salutatorian Caught in Immigration Snafu."

Transcripts of the June 6 stories as provided by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:

ABC’s World News Tonight:
Charlie Gibson’s tease: "American dream: A Princeton graduate who rose from homelessness to the top of his class, but could now be banned from the country because he is an illegal alien."

Gibson set up the story: "We have an extraordinary story tonight of one illegal immigrant. 65,000 undocumented immigrant children will graduate this spring from American high schools. They will not be able to work legally. They will not qualify for most college aid. Only 10 to 20 percent will be able to continue their studies. We are going to take 'A Closer Look' at a young man who graduated from Princeton University today near the top of his class. He defied the odds spectacularly. Yet, because he is illegal, he faces an uncertain future. Here's ABC's David Muir."

David Muir began: "When Dan-el Padilla Peralta stood before his fellow Princeton graduates today and delivered the salutatory address, in Latin no less, it was a remarkable feat in itself. But the story of how he got here rivals the Roman classics he fell in love with as a young boy. He came here from the Dominican Republic at four years old on a short-term visa. His mother needed urgent medical care. His childhood was spent skipping from shelter to shelter in New York."

Dan-el Padilla Peralta, in an interview (not his Princeton address): "It was, you know, a kind of personal hell that we were all going through. Because of rampant drug use, many of the people's lives were utterly and completely broken."

Muir: "But his life was not because of a discovery he made at just nine years old, a book on ancient Greece and Rome."

Peralta: "It allowed me to sort of forge with my own imagination a world that I was not a part of and yet felt all the while that I could be."

Muir: "He read voraciously and won a scholarship to a prestigious prep school, hiding his school tie on the walk from their tiny apartment in Harlem to the subway. And then came the scholarship to Princeton."

Prof. Denis Feney, Princeton Department of Classics: "And to me, the only amazing thing about him was his ability. So I had no idea that he was undocumented."

Muir: "But indeed he is. Dan-el is an illegal immigrant, which becomes very important because he's been invited to study at Oxford. And if he goes, U.S. immigration law says because he is an illegal, he can't come back for at least a decade."

Peralta: "-missing out on some very beautiful things. I would like to see my brother graduate from high school."

Muir gave a soundbite to another view: "Padilla's attorney is asking for a waiver. But there are tens of thousands of undocumented students in the U.S., and some argue it could set a precedent."

Ira Mehlman, Federation for American Immigration Reform: "We can't make exceptions for people who break the law simply because they happen to be geniuses."

Muir then returned to empathizing with Peralta: "Dan-el has made little of his story here on the Princeton campus, rarely sharing with fellow scholars his predicament. Even so, they've learned of it. In fact, some have come forward, even offering to marry him."

Peralta: "One of my closest friends brought that up. I was nearly reduced to tears."

Muir: "Today, there were tears again. But does he go to Oxford or not?"

Peralta: "My merits matter far more than any simple categorization of me or of others as illegal immigrants. And the rest, as the Greeks would say, I leave to the immortal gods."

Muir: "David Muir, ABC News, Princeton, New Jersey."

Gibson followed up: "Dan-el Padilla Peralta will hear in about two weeks whether his immigration waiver is approved. Oxford is holding his place in the meantime. We have much more about this young man's remarkable story at ABCNews.com."


NBC Nightly News:
Brian Williams introduced a favorable look at illegals: "The political debate over illegal immigration is a hot one on Capitol Hill and in congressional races across the country this election year. As we said, President Bush was back at the Mexican border today, a media event at a training facility for border patrol agents in New Mexico. He was urging Congress to pass a comprehensive reform bill. NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory tonight takes a different look at the story from a different vantage point. He visited a New York City street corner today. It tells the whole story."

Gregory began: "It's a far cry from America's border war out West, a crowded corner of Queens, New York, 49th Street and Skillman Avenue. At first glance, the immigration debate and its consequences seem far off."

Gary O'Neill, Irish immigrant: "Absolutely, it's changed people's lives."

Gregory: "But look more closely, as we did."

Father Joseph Jerome, All Saints' Episcopal Church: "God forbid that these people will be endangered and have to leave."

Gregory: "And you see a neighborhood among the most diverse in the city on the leading edge of this fight. Some are afraid. Luis Amigo owns this bodaga. Here illegally, he says he won't visit his sister anymore, fearing he'll now get stuck in Mexico."

Luis Amigo, illegal immigrant: "It's not easy like before. Now it's, they send the National Guard to check the border. It's really hard, really hard to come over here."

O'Neill: "There's fear from Americans that, you know, that immigrants are going to take all their jobs, are going to keep wages low."

Gregory: "Community activist Ana Maria Archilla sees something else, a new desire to stay and fight for citizenship. Leaving really isn't an option?"

Ana Maria Archilla to Gregory: "Leaving is not an option, and it's especially not an option for people that have spent here a large portion of their lives that have really given their labor to this country and have raised families here."

Gregory: "The immigrants in this neighborhood, legal and illegal, are mobilizing, with tactics big and small. Ana Maria organized this neighborhood march May 1st [picture of people holding up U.S. and Mexican flags], while dozens of neighborhood parents learn English seven days a week. Do they think that that's a tool in the fight now?"

Archilla: "Yes, yes. They're eager both to demonstrate that there is good will, and that there is an intention to be, kind of, fully part of the American society."

Gregory: "There is also this appeal: Don't let today's politics change the country."

Jerome: "We would fail our forefathers if we are not doing what we are supposed to do, to welcome immigrants, because this obviously, this is a country of immigrants."

Gregory concluded by endorsing Jerome’s take: "Especially here at 49th and Skillman. David Gregory, NBC News, New York."

Brian Williams then added, over video of Peralta:
"And there was this today on the issue of immigration. It came up at the graduation ceremony at Princeton University of all places. Twenty-one-year-old Dan-el Padilla Peralta was selected as Princeton salutatorian. He gave the traditional speech in Latin. But he also got over a major hurdle today. He graduated from the Ivy League despite living in the U.S. illegally. He moved here from the Dominican Republic when he was four. His mother was sick. A wealthy benefactor guided him through prep school. He has been accepted to Oxford in England to study, but the secret he and Princeton kept for quite some time is now out."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center