NEW YORK - Julissa Arce, 33, is the definition of the American dream. She lived as an undocumented immigrant for 15 years. She was undocumented when she accepted a job at Goldman Sachs. Even though she lived in fear, she was determined to accomplish her goals.
Julissa lived in the shadows for most of her life. She was born in Mexico. In 1986, her father and mother decided to come to America and left 3-year-old Julissa behind. Her parents imported sterling silver from Mexico to the United States and sold it at trade shows. Both of them were in the U.S. legally with visas. When Julissa turned 11, her parents brought her to live with them in Texas. She came on a tourist visa. But three years later that visa expired and she became undocumented.
Even though she had graduated in the top 5 of her high school, she was rejected from every college she applied to because she didn't have a Social Security number.
However, things were about to change. Texas passed a law that would allow undocumented immigrants to go to college and pay in-state tuition. She went off to the University of Texas in Austin to purse a finance degree.
She sold funnel cakes and made just enough to pay for tuition. But that soon came to an end, so she was faced with a decision: drop out of school or try to get a job and continue her education.
She was determined not to let the sacrifices her parents made go to waste. That is when she decided to get fake documents because she was desperate. Julissa never imagined she would use those documents, but an opportunity came her way: an internship at Goldman Sachs. She applied and got it.
After graduation, Goldman gave her a full-time position. She quickly rose up the ranks from analyst to vice president. She was 27 years old and making $340,000 a year.
By the time she became a VP, she had a green card. But for a large majority of her time at Goldman she didn't have the right legal documents. She said the company didn't find out. She left Goldman in 2011.
Now she is telling the world her story in her book "My (Underground) American Dream." she chose the title to express how she felt like she had to live her like in the underground, in the shadows.
Julissa became an American citizen in August 2014. She is now an author, public speaker, and advocate for immigrants' rights and education equality.
In 2012, she co-founded the Ascend Educational Fund, a scholarship for immigrant students here in New York City.