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MacArthur Award Recognizes Voice for Undocumented Youth


Cristina Jimenez understands exactly how difficult it is for undocumented youth to stand up against discrimination and hate-filled rhetoric.

She came to the U.S. at the age of 13 as an undocumented immigrant herself, and when she first began organizing against injustice toward the immigrant community, she did so in secret, worried about immigration agents.

Now, as executive director of United We Dream and a recently announced recipient of a prestigious 2017 MacArthur Fellows award, Cristina is anything but behind the scenes. The MacArthur award, often referred to as a “genius grant,” is a no-strings-attached $625,000 award given to people who “show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.” The recipients range from artists and scientists to activists and educators.

For Cristina, the award feels like a recognition – for everything her parents sacrificed, coming to America for a better life, and for the courage shown by the undocumented youth she works with, who put everything on the line to make this country their home.

“I think it brings a little bit of hope to our community, a recognition of our existence, of our movement for justice – and also the vision we are working for, which is a world where immigrants and people of color can live without fear,” she said.

United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, addresses a wide range of inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth. It has long been at the forefront of the push for a path to citizenship for undocumented youth brought to the United States as children.

Levi Strauss & Co. is a proud supporter of United We Dream, and gave the organization its Levi Strauss Legacy Grant earlier this year, as well as an additional grant from the Levi Strauss Foundation to support marginalized communities. Levi’s® also recently partnered with the organization to raise money for its efforts through the sale of trucker jackets customized by Los Angeles artists and sold at Fred Segal.

With the recent announcement that the Trump administration will put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which shields nearly 800,000 undocumented youth from deportation and makes them eligible for work permits – the organization is rallying with new urgency.

The goal is to pass a “clean” DREAM Act, offering permanent protections and a path to citizenship without provisions that would hurt the broader undocumented community, by the end of the year, Cristina said. She is encouraged by the widespread support across sectors that has mobilized since the announcement.

“I have never seen this level of support from different communities all advocating for the same thing,” she said. “That gives me a lot of hope that this is possible. But with anything in Congress, it’s not going to happen because you feel hopeful, but because you pressure and do the work to get there.”

The key, she said, is understanding that this is not an issue confined to the immigrant community.

“People are choosing a side,” she said. “This is not so much about an isolated community, but rather a matter of defining the soul of this country and who we are as Americans.”

Business leaders across the country are part of that broad coalition of voices speaking up in support for the DREAM Act – including LS&Co., which recently joined the Coalition for the American Dream, an alliance of businesses and industry leaders seeking the passage of the DREAM Act.

For those who want to make their own voices heard, United We Dream urges people to contact members of Congress to push for passage of a clean DREAM Act. To learn more, text DREAMACTNOW to 877877 to plug into United We Dream’s campaign.

(Photo credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)