Launched in 2014, Newport Harbor High School Alumni Hall of Fame’s mission is to “honor the alumni” and “preserve the rich heritage of NHHS.” Past Hall of Fame inductees include masterful educators, accomplished actors/directors/filmmakers, a decorated U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, legendary athletes, a renowned artist, decorated U.S. combat veterans, distinguished philanthropists, ground-breaking scientists, and an illustrious California Associate Justice. Each past inductee has a long and storied career in their chosen field of expertise.
The young TV journalist is, by all rational measures, at the beginning of her career. Her accomplishments include winning 2 Emmys within the last 4 years: One for reporting and another for news production. Other than those accolades, it appears Arias’ accomplishments are somewhere off in the vague future. In fact, “NHHS is proud to celebrate America Arias, for what she has already accomplished, and for the important stories she will shape in the future.”
Arias’ Hall of Fame induction begs many questions. Who are the members of the Nominating Committee and what is their criteria for determining induction; who is America Arias and why honor her at this specific time in her short career; and why is Arias seemingly deserving of induction, while other nominated and far more accomplished journalists are not? A group of concerned NHHS Alumni is on a mission to find answers.
The Nominating Committee
The Alumni Association’s website and Facebook page yield little to no information. Gregg Kelly (’75), is listed as the NHHS Alumni Association President along with, Corrine Hamilton Heiser (’70), Director, however, no information regarding the Committee members nor the nominating process can be found.
Calls and emails to NHHS and the Alumni Association were not returned.
Why the secrecy? Shouldn’t a process involving the legacy of the entire school be open and transparent?
Who is America Arias, really?
Arias’ barebones NHHS Alumni biography paints her simply as a dedicated student and “forward-thinking” journalist whose “skills quickly advanced her career.” The reality, however, is quite different and easily found with a Google search.
According to Arias herself, she is “a DREAMER. Born in Mexico, raised in Orange County, CA” whose “…dad paid a man who basically smuggled [Arias and her siblings] out through” Tijuana “into the U.S. through the pedestrian crossing.” Yes, the truth is, Arias is a self-admitted illegal immigrant, an Obama DACA kid.
Travel and the Law
So, having admitted she’s an illegal immigrant who is now permitted under DACA to live and work in the U.S., surely Arias follows all laws and is no longer one of those “people who cheat the system,” right? Not so fast. Want to go to Cuba on vacation as a DACA kid? No problem, Arias tells everyone how she avoided answering ICE questions how on her blog:
“HOW YOU CAN GO TO CUBA: Although President Obama’s administration is working to open trade between the U.S. and Cuba, and allow Americans to travel there unrestricted, it’s still not easy to get on a plane and fly to Havana.
What worked for me was to travel to Mexico first, then book a flight to Havana. This is cheaper than flying from the anywhere else in the United States, unless it’s Miami. Once in Mexico, buy a VISA at the airport. This will cost you about $15. Once you get to Cuba, ask immigration officials to only stamp your VISA not your passport. This way, you’ll avoid answering questions when you return to the U.S.
I also recommend you bring plenty of cash! Cuban banks and businesses still won’t recognize your American bank and you’ll struggle to get access to cash.”
If Arias’ recommendations and travel are not illegal, then they are at minimum downright unethical and should not be honored by NHHS.
Under U.S. Immigration law, any DACA recipient must file for a DACA travel application in order to travel outside the United States. Travel is only permitted for humanitarian or assigned reasons. Travel for vacation is not a valid reason. One wonders if Arias applied for such a travel application for her recent trips to Cuba and France. Or don’t “pesky” ICE laws apply to America Arias unless, of course, they’re in her favor?
Arias portrays herself as having “paid for college all on [her] own without asking the government for a penny,” but even that part of her story doesn’t quite ring true.
While in high school and college, Arias took advantage of multiple programs that are partially or fully government-funded: the AVID program, THINK Together learning program, and the Orange County Hispanic Education Endowment Fund scholarship just to name a few. Her alumni bio even admits she “applied for 135 scholarships.” That’s hardly paying for it herself.
Why is there no overt mention of her immigration status nor activism beyond the use of a few progressive keywords in her NHHS Alumni biography? The information is public and easy to find. For 20 years, Arias consciously hid her immigration status–until the election of President Trump–now it appears NHHS Alumni Association may be helping her hide it once again.
What might be driving Arias’ induction?
Based on the thin “merit of her professional accomplishments,” a group of NHHS Alumni are now questioning the wisdom and legitimacy of Arias’ induction into the 2017 NHHS Hall of Fame. The group sent a letter to the NHHS Alumni Association President Mr. Gregg Kelly, Mr. Sean Boulton, Newport Harbor High’s current Principal, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District:
“It is our view that Ms. Arias does not even remotely qualify to be considered for this honor on any basis that pertains to the actual merit of her professional accomplishments. Ms. Arias graduated from NHHS only 12 years ago, and graduated from college only 8 years ago. Her ‘journalistic career’ is woefully lacking in substance, longevity and excellence.”
Why, the Alumni group asks, when there are many other well-qualified and far better accomplished professional journalists nominated for the Hall of Fame, would the NHHS Alumni Association chose to overlook those nominees in favor of one so sparse in actual career accomplishments?
Activism and bias
One doesn’t have to look hard to see Arias’ progressive bias on full display. In truth, might the motivation for her induction actually be her progressive leftist political bias? Indeed, NHHS claims they are honoring her “for her personal determination and clear eye on current events, NHHS is proud to celebrate America Arias, for what she has already accomplished, and for the important stories she will shape in the future.”
In her role as a TV News Producer, “Arias is an outspoken advocate on various current political issues” such as illegal immigration. And with Arias’ “clear eye on current events” so obviously clouded by her personal progressive social biases, what other reason could there be for her induction? This begs the question, is this political bias the kind of “heritage of integrity” NHHS Alumni really want their Hall of Fame to honor?
One also has to wonder if ABC7 condones Arias using her position as a journalist to biasedly advocate for progressive social justice while encouraging others to violate U.S. immigration laws? Whatever happened to journalistic integrity and network policies preventing such bias?
Answers and more questions
As the national debate continues over illegal immigration, a Los Angeles area high school is set to induct a self-admitted illegal immigrant into its Alumni Hall of Fame. But is she really deserving of this honor to represent its “ heritage of integrity?” Or is something else going on here?
Does the community of Newport Beach want to become ground zero for the DACA immigration fight? Why is America Arias being promoted so quickly and so aggressively with a career that has just begun? All eyes are on NHHS, its Hall of Fame, and Thursday’s induction ceremony—and maybe that’s the point.
Note: Emails and calls made to Newport Harbor High School were not returned.