Undocumented Young Woman Proves ‘American Dream’ Still Exists
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Julissa Arce came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child. She entered the country with her parents on a tourist visa… and stayed after it expired. Arce attended school in San Antonio, excelling in her classes and active in many student organizations. When she wasn’t attending classes, Arce worked at her parents’ funnel cake stand at San Antonio’s Marketplace. From these humble beginnings, Arce became a successful Wall Street banker and then went on to a job that helps others find their own dreams. Her recent interview with Bloomberg News documents how, with each step of the way, Arce contributed to the U.S. economy and demonstrated the type of drive and entrepreneurship that Americans value.
Arce lived in fear of being identified as an undocumented immigrant from the time she was 14 years old. During her senior year of high school, she applied to colleges but left blank the section asking for a social security number. She received no offers. However, when Texas passed a law allowing undocumented residents of the state to attend college at in-state rates, she asked the University of Texas at Austin to review her application. They did, and Arce was admitted. She majored in finance.
In 2001, Arce’s parents returned to Mexico. She stayed behind to attend school. On weekends, she bussed to San Antonio and ran the funnel cake stand, earning enough to cover her expenses. When the stand lost its space at the Marketplace, though, Arce was faced with a challenge: She had no papers and needed to find a job. She used a portion of her savings to buy a fake green card and held down service jobs to pay her tuition and bills.
She excelled in college and was ultimately accepted in Goldman Sachs’ ultra-competitive summer internship program, where Arce did well enough to garner a full-time job offer. Arce spent a handful of years at Goldman Sachs living in fear that her secret would be discovered. In 2007, her boyfriend -- a U.S. citizen – proposed, and Arce was able to secure a legitimate green card.
By 2011, Arce was earning a six-figure income and bore the title of vice president at one of Wall Street’s most profitable investment banks. But she was not happy. She had achieved all the financial success that she’d wanted, yet was not fulfilled by the way she made a living. She left Goldman for another firm, where she couldn’t engage. She was let go. After several months of soul searching, Arce decided to leave Wall Street and move to California where she will work with a nonprofit that helps fight for the rights on immigrants.
Arce’s story is important because it underscores the economic importance of immigration reform. President Obama’s executive action offers relief to some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors as well as to undocumented parents of children born in the U.S. This is a step in the right direction.
However, even with the executive action on immigration, current visa quotas cap the number of outstanding students and professionals who are permitted to work in the U.S. Had Arce returned to Mexico with her parents, her contribution to the U.S. economy would have been derailed.
True immigration reform is necessary to help bring high-achieving immigrants – as both students and talented workers – into the country and encourage them to contribute to the economy.