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How An Undocumented Immigrant Made Her Way To The Top On Wall Street

When many Americans think of undocumented Mexican immigrants, they likely picture housekeepers, landscapers, construction workers and farmhands.

These individuals are often labeled as “illegals” and viewed as a drain on the economy.

They're rarely characterized as ambitious or capable, and are sometimes even looked at as lazy.

A woman named Julissa Arce shatters these discriminatory stereotypes and myths.

She went from being a poor immigrant from Mexico to making six-figures on Wall Street. Her incredible and inspiring story is documented in a must-read piece from Max Abelson for Bloomberg Business.

Arce not only dispels many misperceptions surrounding immigrants, but also helps reveal how very flawed America's immigration system is.

Julissa Arce went from being an undocumented immigrant to dominating on Wall Street.

Originally from Mexico, Arce moved to San Antonio, Texas when she was 11. She'd always dreamed of making it to America, and like many before her, she viewed it as the Land of Opportunity.

In spite of the fact she could barely speak English, she immersed herself in activities at school. Arce also exhibited a propensity for mathematics and excelled in her studies.

When she was 14, however, Arce's tourist visa expired, which shattered many of her hopes for making it big in America.

Fortunately, this did not deter her from going to college. In 2001, she was accepted into the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in finance.

During college, a friend got her get in touch with some people who helped her procure a fake green card. She was then able to obtain a customer service job, in which she saw a presentation about summer jobs at banks in New York City.

Arce was very intrigued by the amount of money a person could potentially make there.

She hoped becoming affluent would mean she'd finally be accepted as an American, despite her immigration status.

Ultimately, Arce's keen intellect and ambitious spirit landed her a job at Goldman Sachs in 2005. It was no easy task, as the prestigious global investment banking firm has a very low hiring rate.

Arce did it not only as a woman, but also as an undocumented immigrant. Somehow, no one discovered her documents were forged.

She rose up the ranks quickly and ended up making somewhere between $300k-$400k a year.

Arce was not only good at math and problem-solving, but also had excellent interpersonal skills and a propensity for closing deals. She was intelligent, driven, affable and loyal.

In other words, she was the very opposite of the way many Americans characterize immigrants.


Wealth and power didn't eliminate fear or guilt.

Despite the security her salary and position provided, Arce was always extremely anxious her immigration status would be discovered, stating:

It was terrifying. You sort of have to force yourself to live in this alternate reality, just pretending like it doesn't really exist.

She wasn't able to leave the country, either, which was one of the most difficult aspects of her predicament. When her father died in 2007, she made the devastating decision to stay in the US, since leaving would mean sacrificing her job.

Arce eventually obtained a green card by marrying an American. She was finally a citizen of the United States, but as Abelson puts it, “She was legal, elite, and rich. She was also unhappy.”

In the end, Arce discovered money didn't bring her fulfillment, and achieving the “American Dream” made her feel very empty. Likewise, she often felt guilty for pursuing her dreams.

It didn't matter Arce had achieved success on Wall Street despite tremendous obstacles; all of it was tarnished in many people's eyes because she had done it “illegally.”

Now, Julissa Arce wants to ensure no one else has to live in fear for striving toward a better life. She no longer works on Wall Street, and is now the development director of Define American, a non-profit based in California.

Define American was founded by Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who revealed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a powerful and poignant New York Times piece.

Like Arce, Vargas also lived much of his life in fear, despite posing no threat to the US, whatsoever.

Both of these brave individuals are a testament to the fact America needs to reevaluate its stance on immigrants.


Let's stop telling myths about immigrants, while also recognizing our own history.

It's apparent there a number of myths surrounding immigrants in the United States. First, we must address the belief that those without documentation or permission are “illegal.”

As Nobel Peace Prize-winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once stated:

No human being is illegal.

Many immigrants are undocumented as a result of a rigid and outdated system, which makes the pathway toward citizenship exceptionally difficult.

Not to mention, out of the 41 million immigrants in the United States, only around 11 million are undocumented.

Immigrants are also not a drain on the economy, nor are they stealing American jobs. In fact, they strengthen the economy by taking low-skilled jobs no one else wants.

As we saw with Julissa Arce, immigrants are often very ambitious and entrepreneurial. They serve a vital role in America's economy by filling in gaps in the labor force and starting new businesses.

There's also no truth to the claim that undocumented immigrants “don't pay taxes.” In actuality, they already pay billions in taxes, and would pay significantly more if they were citizens.

This country was explored, founded and built by immigrants. Yet, new waves of immigrants have often been met with animosity and prejudice.

This has been true throughout America's history; it's nothing new. We celebrate our immigrant tradition, yet discriminate against new groups of immigrants. It's quite hypocritical.

The opportunity afforded to the citizens of this country is largely a product of the hard work and ingenuity of previous generations. At the same time, it's a consequence of the exploitation of indigenous peoples, slaves and many countries throughout the world.

American history has both inspiring and reprehensible segments. It's time to be honest about our past.

We need to stop stigmatizing immigrants and offer easier pathways to citizenship. This is both a humane and economically sound policy.

Fortunately, President Obama has taken steps towards protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, while also providing them with work permits.

These policies have, unsurprisingly, not been met without opposition, and it will be a long time before this issue is truly resolved.

We have to take practical steps when it comes to immigration, but doing so doesn't mean the opportunities here should be made exclusive.

Citations: How an Undocumented Immigrant From Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs (Bloomberg Business), How Americas source of immigrants has changed over a century (Pew Research Center), My life as an undocumented immigrant (The New York Times), The stolen job myth (Boston Globe), Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States (Migration Policy Institute ), Five immigration myths debunked (CNN Money), 5 facts about illegal immigration in the US (Pew Research Center ), The Facts On Immigration Today (Center for American Progress), Top 10 Myths On Immigration (Immigration Policy Center ), Rush Limbaugh Attacks Mexican Immigrants Inaccurately Portraying Them As Lazy And Government Dependent (Huffington Post), With Immigration Injunction Texas Judge Condemns Millions to Continued Life in the Shadows (Huffington Post)

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John Haltiwanger

Editor

John Haltiwanger is the Senior Politics Writer at Elite Daily. He was born and raised in DC. John earned an MSc in International Relations from the Univ. Of Glasgow and a BA in History from St. Mary's College of MD. He loves life, and burritos.
John Haltiwanger is the Senior Politics Writer at Elite Daily. He was born and raised in DC. John earned an MSc in International Relations from the Univ. Of Glasgow and a BA in History from St. Mary's College of MD. He loves life, and burritos.

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