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Essay by SOF Alumn Dan-el Padilla: “An immigrant in the time of Trump”

Fellows, SOF Fellows

March 1, 2017
Cartoon graphic of the the statue of liberty floating in a boat.

Published on Princeton Alumni Weekly

The Trump Era: Undocumented

By Dan-el Padilla Peralta
Published in the March 1, 2017 Issue
An immigrant in the time of Trump

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency, I spent several weeks attempting to sort out which obligations and responsibilities would need to take precedence in my personal and professional lives moving forward. I had come of age in a community that had been singled out for particular opprobrium and vilification by the Trump campaign: the 11 million undocumented. It was in the pages of PAW 11 years ago that I presented, for the first time in my own voice, my journey to Princeton as a Dominican-American without papers. I now return to these pages even more determined in light of recent events to affirm that these 11 million belong in the United States.

My initial venture into the autobiographical arts emboldened me to entertain the possibility that a fuller exposition of this journey might offer encouragement — and admonition — to a readership beyond Princeton. Not long after the PAW article came out, I decided to write a memoir. Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League was published by Penguin Press in 2015. You may be wondering why my memoir had a nine-year gestation; surely a 20-something-year-old couldn’t have that much to say? The short answer: life! The long answer: graduate school, first in the United Kingdom (courtesy of the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Scholarship) and then at Stanford (where I received my Ph.D. in classics in 2014); and family happiness (in 2009 I began dating a fervent Yankees fan from Sparta, N.J.; six years later we got married).

Always humming in the background, impervious to all attempts at resolution, was anxiety about my immigration status. Having departed the United States in the fall of 2006 while still undocumented, I was granted a waiver of inadmissibility and a work visa to re-enter the country in 2007 for a part-time research-assistant position at Princeton. After completing my studies at Oxford in 2008, I applied for a change of status to a student visa to accept an offer of admission to Stanford’s doctoral program. In my fifth year at Stanford — and about two months after I submitted the final draft of the memoir manuscript to Penguin — I received a postdoctoral job offer from Columbia’s Society of Fellows. Off I raced to complete my dissertation and to apply for the work authorization that would enable me to begin my postdoctoral employment. CONTINUE TO FULL ARTICLE