Mexican Immigrant Defied the Odds in Ivy League

Still, many state and federal lawmakers have acknowledged the unique predicament of undocumented students like Felix, who were raised in the U.S. illegally by their parents, consider the U.S. their home and have few ties to the birth country they left at a young age.

At least 10 states, including California, now allow undocumented immigrants who complete high school to pay taxpayer-subsidized, in-state college tuition rates, according to the College Board.

But Felix, who graduated with honors both from Los Angeles' Garfield High School and UCLA, said many obstacles to higher education and successful careers remain, placing an "unacceptable" ceiling on her dreams.

"I feel like, in order for me to grow I have to be doing what I want to do and I have to have dreams. And people have to pursue their dreams. And I feel like if you don't do that, what is there left to do?" she said.

Felix said her dream to open a clinic in L.A. has motivated her to independently finance her Columbia University education without help from federal loans or grants, or the ability to legally make money from a job.

A Classmate's Parent Pitched In

After enrolling at Columbia in 2008, Felix began working at a local pizza restaurant for cash under the table and solicited donations from friends and supporters using PayPal on a website that advertises her cause. Felix said she also received help from one compassionate parent of a classmate who offered to charge part of her tuition on his credit card.

Before her death, Felix had secured more than $13,000 in private scholarships toward tuition and several thousand dollars in savings and donations toward her goal of close to $40,000.

"I feel like I am just like everyone else," she said. "I want to help my community here. I'm not getting educated here so I can go back to Mexico and do all these different things over there.

"I'm getting educated here because I want to help the community where I grew up."

More stories from ABC News' special series "Out of the Shadows: Illegal Immigration in America"

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