Julissa Arce


Julissa Arce came to the United States when she was 11 years old and became undocumented at age 14 when her visa expired. She paid for a college education by operating a funnel cake stand and graduated with a degree in finance. Using false papers, Julissa landed an internship at Goldman Sachs, was offered a full-time job, and was eventually promoted to vice president. Today Julissa is an American citizen and advocates for immigration reform.

“I believe that it’s in gratitude that you find peace.”

Getting a green card allowed me to work, allowed me to come and go as I please. It was such a relief to have those little pieces of paper. In a lot of ways I was free, but I still couldn’t vote. I still felt like a foreigner in my own country. I had to wait five years from the time I became a resident to the time I could apply to become a citizen. I guess I felt American long before I got a piece of paper that said that I was.

It’s easy to place blame on a group of people who don’t have a voice, who don’t have representation. That’s what is happening. I’m a numbers person. I love economics and finance. How is it possible that we can blame 11 million people for all of our problems? However, politicians do that every single year. Immigration is at the center of the political debate, but not for the reasons that it should be. Eleven million people currently cannot live as full human beings. Eleven million people are scared every day of being separated from their families. If they’re driving down the street and get pulled over, they will be deported. I know what’s it like to live with that fear. That should be at the center of the conversation, because it’s a human rights issue.

To learn more of Julissa’s story, read her book, My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive” 

Julissa Arce audio 


Discussion Questions

  • Julissa talks about never being questioned because of her credentials. What does this say about the importance of achievement and meeting standards in our society? How much weight do you place on your own credentials? On other people’s credentials? How do someone’s credentials/lack of credentials shape your view of him or her?
  • Places yourself in Julissa’s shoes for a moment. What words would you use to describe to describe the feeling of being a foreigner in your own country?
  • Describe your identity as an American? How do you imagine that would be different/similar to that of an undocumented immigrant?
  • What explains the political inclination to blame groups of people? What groups of people have you blamed in your own life?
  • Have you ever experienced peace in the midst of chaos? Does that peace differ from peace experienced in non-chaotic situations?

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