My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executiveby Julissa Arce
Published on September 13th 2016
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For an undocumented immigrant, what is the true cost of the American Dream? Julissa Arce shares her story in a riveting memoir.
When she was 11 years old Julissa Arce left Mexico and came to the United States on a tourist visa to be reunited with her parents, who dreamed the journey would secure her a better life. When her visa expired at the age of 15, she became an undocumented immigrant. Thus began her underground existence, a decades long game of cat and mouse, tremendous family sacrifice, and fear of exposure. After the Texas Dream Act made a college degree possible, Julissa's top grades and leadership positions landed her an internship at Goldman Sachs, which led to a full time position--one of the most coveted jobs on Wall Street. Soon she was a Vice President, a rare Hispanic woman in a sea of suits and ties, yet still guarding her "underground" secret. In telling her personal story of separation, grief, and ultimate redemption, Arce shifts the immigrant conversation, and changes the perception of what it means to be an undocumented immigrant.
Julissa Arce’s parents were working legally in the United States while she and her older sisters lived with her extended family in Mexico.Â Her younger brother was born in the United States.Â When Julissa started acting out in school at age 11, her parents brought her to live with them.Â She had no idea that it was illegal for her to go to school.Â She didn’t know that she had outstayed her visa until her mother explained that she couldn’t go back to Mexico for her quinceanera because she wouldn’t be able to come back into the United States.
She was a star student but was not accepted to any colleges because she didn’t have a social security number.Â At this point Texas passed a law that allowed undocumented students to go to college at Texas state schools.Â This allowed her to be able to go to school.
I was conflicted when reading this book.Â I think people should follow the rules of the country they live in.Â I also think that it should be much, much easier for people to come to the United States from Latin America so people aren’t required to sneak into the country.Â Julissa also buys fake documents as an adult to be able to get a job.Â I can see that she was brought into the country by her parents and she had no intent to do anything wrong at that point, but now she was actively breaking the law because she felt she was entitled to stay here and get a very high paying job.Â She talked a little bit about whether or not she should go back to Mexico because she would be able to get a very good job so it wasn’t like she didn’t have options.Â She also marries specifically get to a green card.Â The more unethical things she does, the less sympathy I retained for her.
This book made me understand the issues around children of undocumented immigrants.Â They are stuck as they become adults.Â I think there should be a way for these children to be able to be legally documented.
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I appreciate your honesty in sharing your views about the topic.
To me, this is a very personal issue, as I know people personally who have similar stories to her Julissa Arce’s. The children who are brought here don’t have any choice but to try to build a life in America, which for some is the only home they know or remember. As they grow older and are faced with the issue of working illegally, what else are they supposed to do? Self-deport? That’s a scary thought, especially for those whose family lives in America. For someone like Arce, she may have had great opportunities in Mexico as well, given her education, but for most undocumented youth, that’s not a possibility.
It’s a very complicated issue. The idea of giving undocumented youth a path to citizenship has been around for over a decade. It was president Obama who allowed these youth to receive temporary legal status to work. I’m terrified to think what will happen to them if Trump becomes president.
That was part of my issue with this book. She had a huge amount of privilege compared to most kids in this situation so her “Woe is me” attitude wore a bit thin.
I can’t imagine being stuck in that position without having any way to get out. I think having logical, easily attainable steps to citizenship or at the very least permanent resident status just makes sense. Without it you are just condemning people to living a life outside of the established economy which can lead to crime and all those things that conservatives say they want to avoid.