Henderson wants to help illegal immigrant high achievers earn citizenship, scholarships
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · October 18, 2013

Latinos may make up the minority of Iowans, but Elliott Henderson told Hoover Uncommon Student Award judges Saturday that they make up 52 percent of West Liberty’s population.

And while the parents of some of his friends came to America illegally, many of their children demonstrate model citizenship and want to contribute even more to society.

But lack of citizenship status blocks access to most scholarships, making a college degree difficult.

Not possessing a Social Security number nor holding U.S. citizenship “is a huge obstacle in America,” which is why Henderson is organizing efforts to try to help his high school friends overcome those obstacles with … facts.

“When the law is not on your side, argue the facts,” Henderson said, quoting an attorney who helped advise him on his project. “When the facts are not on your side, argue the law.”

Henderson was one of 14 high school students competing in the 16th annual Hoover USA honors while giving presentations at the Brick Arch Winery. The winery served as a backup location due to the federal budget impasse that closed 17 percent of the government, including the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum and its Figge Auditorium, where the Hoover Association normally hosts the Hoover USA.

Quinn Wilson of Ankeny, Thomas Rex Shields of Logan and Genivyve Smith of New Providence each won the top prize of $5,000, and Wilson also won the Mariah Becker Leadership Award.

Wilson’s project collected used band instruments for the underprivileged, Shields’ project started a student-run newspaper at Logan-Magnolia High School, and Smith’s project provided blankets for children placed in Child Abuse Prevention Services of Marshall County Crisis Center.

However, all of those who made the cut and presented Saturday, like Henderson, each took home $1,000 for making it that far.

Henderson noted that President Hoover “wanted education for all,” because the West Branch native knew that “knowledge is power.”

Henderson created a Twitter feed called The High Achiever (@theopportunity1) to funnel information about college scholarships to followers and even authored a bill which he submitted to Congress “to help students get residency.”

Henderson said he wants to continue his push in Washington D.C. to make it easier for high achievers, though his project taught him that becoming a citizen is a “complex issue.”

“I know we can’t let just anybody” in America, Henderson said afterward. “We want them to be a contributing person with no criminal history. I want to help the youth of America.”

He said the Hoover USA contest has been “an amazing experience.”

“It’s propelled me into giving time back and helping others,” he said.

He thinks his work with student citizenship sparked an interest in politics, and he might consider that career “later in life.”

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