Cristina Jimenez, 31
Co-founder and Managing Director, United We Dream
Cristina Jimenez knew she was undocumented when she moved from Ecuador to New York with her family at 13. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when a college counselor told the high-performing high-school student that she could not apply for financial aid, that the gravity of her legal status hit her.
She felt deep shame — but also a burning desire to drive change.
Ms. Jimenez began to advocate and organize, first in New York and then nationally. In 2008, after yet another push for comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Washington, she helped found United We Dream, a national advocacy group powered by young immigrants. By sharing their stories publicly, the activists risked being targeted by federal authorities. Theirs became the faces of the immigration debate.
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Ms. Jimenez and her colleagues played a pivotal role in pressuring the Obama White House to take executive action in 2012 to protect from deportation some young people brought to the United States as children. "For us it was a significant victory because it was the first positive step in the immigration debate in many years," she says.
United We Dream continues to advocate for undocumented people, both on the 2016 campaign trail and in the legal battle over the president’s 2014 executive order to shield some immigrant parents from deportation.