By Jalen Wade
For The Diamondback
Students and other members of the University of Maryland community gathered Tuesday to hear from Julissa Arce, a formerly undocumented immigrant who has become a philanthropist and activist.
Arce grew up as an undocumented immigrant living in Texas and overcame various challenges before eventually becoming a philanthropist and working to help other undocumented individuals.
This university’s Leadership and Community Service Learning Group hosted Arce in an effort to inspire social change, said Craig Slack, the director of group. Slack said the event was also part of the group’s Voices of Social Change speaker series, which brings in accomplished individuals looking to inspire others to work for social change, according to their mission statement.
The series has been going on for eight years, said Pamela Gouws, the group’s program administrative specialist. The discussions have ranged in topics; however, Gouws said the group believed Arce was the perfect person to speak on this issue.
“We wanted to tackle this topic of undocumented immigrants,” Gouws said. “It is very topical, especially now in the current political climate.”
Arce also authored a book titled “My (Underground) American Dream,” which tells the story of her life as an undocumented immigrant and her rise to a career at Goldman Sachs.
As of fall 2017, 132 university students were protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which ensures undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children and meet certain requirements won’t be deported.
During the event, Arce answered questions about her experience as an undocumented immigrant.
“We wanted to tie her story in with the story of others,” Gouws said.
Some students, like Isabel Jorrin Garcia, who works with LCSL, said she connected with this event because she was hearing it from someone who actually endured the hardships she spoke of.
“One of the best things is to hear from someone who has actually experienced these things,” said Garcia, a senior criminology and criminal justice major. “Listening to her it was very impressive — she was very inspirational, and I think she provides a lot of support and hope for people.”
Others, like Luis Orellana, a sophomore accounting and finance major, were inspired by Arce’s story and overall success.
“Personally I had never heard someone’s experience being undocumented and being successful in the corporate world,” Orellana said. “It was really eye-opening and very insightful, and if someone else can do it, it gives me hope that one day I to will be able to do it and succeed in the corporate world.”
Orellana is a member of UndocuTerp, a campus organization that focuses on gaining visibility and support for undocumented students by offering workshops and other resources.
Arce said the issues and challenges facing undocumented immigrants have gained more attention because of the current presidential administration. She also related to students during the question-and-answer session, as she recounted the difficulties of being rejected from schools because she didn’t have access to the same resources as legal citizens.
“I’ve found that people are much more aware to what’s happening on a day-to-day basis due to how close they are to it,” Arce said. “Given everything that’s coming out of the White House in relation to immigration policies, I was really glad to come speak here. … So much of it is relevant to the students of the university and the local community around Maryland.”