By Tatiana Diaz – The Collegiate Staff
On Wednesday, Grand Rapids Community College’s Diversity Lecture series continued with Julissa Arce’s lecture, The American DREAMer: From Undocumented to Wall Street and Immigration Advocacy.
The Fountain Street Church was nearly full at the 7 p.m. lecture with guests eagerly waiting to hear Arce tell her remarkable story.
During the lecture, Arce shared stories of her childhood in Mexico and how her mother played a major role in helping her achieve “The American Dream.”
“She kept telling me that in order to achieve “The American Dream” you had to have two things, you had to stay out of trouble and you had to work hard,” Arce said. “And if you did those two things if you worked hard and if you stayed out of trouble, then anything was possible in this country.”
At 14-years-old, Arce learned she didn’t have the proper paperwork to be in the United States but didn’t fully understand what that meant until it was time to apply to colleges in 2001, her senior year of high school. Arce’s American dream first came to a halt when she began getting rejection letters from colleges around the nation because she was unable to provide a social security number.
“I believed my mom when she told me about this American dream, and I believed my mom when she told me about the formula that I needed to follow,” Arce said. “And I was incredibly, deeply disappointed to find out that it didn’t matter how hard I worked it didn’t matter how much out of trouble I stayed because “The American Dream” just was not available to me.”
While feeling challenged at a crossroad in her life, Arce’s luck turned around when the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) was introduced in that same year. The DREAM Act allowed undocumented students to attend college, pay in-state tuition and apply for state financial aid. In 2001 Arce became a DREAMer after being accepted at the University of Texas at Austin, and that would change the trajectory of her career and her life.
Arce went on to explain how only a handful of states allow undocumented students to attend college, including Michigan, even today. Also that some states like South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia make it a crime for undocumented students to attend college. Arce is hoping that through her advocacy Americans can make strides in changing these policies so that undocumented students all over the country can attend college without fear of deportation.
During her sophomore year of college, while on an internship, Arce was offered a full-time position at Goldman Sachs. She faced another crossroad: to deny the position or to obtain a false social security number. In a risky move Arce chose the latter, and with hard work and ruthless determination, she would eventually reach as far as becoming Vice President of Merrill Lynch.
Since her time on Wall Street Arce has obtained her U.S. citizenship and now dedicates her time and efforts to advocate for undocumented immigrants. She referred to a recent study about the impact the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would have on the people protected by it.
“On September 5 of this year, the current administration chose to end this program (DACA) and they gave a deadline of March 5,” Arce said. “Every single day after March 5 1,400 people will lose their ability to go to work, and to drive, and to go to school and to provide for their families.”
Despite the administration’s decision, Arce gives her audience a solution.
“The number one thing you can do right now is to call your congresswoman, your congressman, your senator and tell them to support the DREAM Act,” Arce said. “We need Republicans, we need Democrats, we need everybody to get on board to pass the solution for the DREAMers.”
The lecture concluded with praise for Arce and her outstanding story.
“The story was very inspiring,” said Carla I. Melara, one of the audience members. “And it underscores the importance of having some sort of protection in place for people who are undocumented.”
Vanessa Gutierrez, 27, from Holland was also in the audience during the lecture and had some positive comments about Arce.
“I was really thankful that she educated,” Gutierrez said. “It wasn’t just her telling her story, but it was her being an advocate for the community and also educating those that may not agree with her point of view or with her personal story.”
Gutierrez echoed Arce’s request for action.
“I would like the same thing, for there to be local support from young and old regarding the DREAM Act of 2017,” Gutierrez said. “The more support we can have, the more pressure, the better outcome for a permanent solution.”