2019 Great Immigrants Recipient

Julissa Arce
Author, Social Justice Advocate, and Cofounder, Ascend Educational Fund
Born in:

Julissa Arce immigrated to the United States from Mexico at age 11 speaking no English, and grew up in San Antonio helping run her family’s funnel cake cart business. By age 27 she was a vice president at Goldman Sachs. But as an undocumented immigrant, she lived in constant fear of her secret being revealed and losing everything. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 2014, she embarked on a new career as an immigrant rights activist, authoring the memoir My (Underground) American Dream and the young adult book Someone Like Me. Arce also shares her story through speeches that give a new perspective on what it means to achieve the American Dream, and she appears as a commentator on CNN, FOX News, and NPR. Arce serves on the board of the National Immigration Law Center and is cofounder and chairwoman of Ascend Educational Fund, which provides college scholarships and mentoring for immigrant students in New York City, irrespective of their immigration status. The organization has awarded more than $400,000 in scholarships since 2012. As Arce observed in 2018, “To me the word ‘immigrant’ is really about strength. It’s really about how much we give to America of our talents and our hard work to make the country better.… My American dream now is about opening doors of opportunity for other people.”