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Cristina Jimenez left Quito, Ecuador and came to the United States when she was only 13 years old. Her journey began from the day she settled in Queens, New York, as an undocumented immigrant. Her parents had sacrificed everything to seek a better life for their children. Cristina knew it would be a struggle but she embraced her situation.

From an early age, she decided to devote all her efforts to her studies, in order to get involved in the community, and become an honor student. All this in hopes of getting a college degree and then help her family to progress and live a better life. At 17, she finallly understood that it was going to be more challenging than she thought.

“I had many moments of contradictions in my life, but the most significant one was when I was in eleventh grade. I’d worked hard, served my community, and I was an honor student ready for college, ” said Cristina. “I had done everything I had to do to be admitted to a good university, but was told that because I had no documents going to college was not an option for me.”

Cristina added that this experience changed her because she always grew up with the illusion that she was going to be successful if she studied and was disciplined—but that was not the case. “I realized that my values and my vision were different from reality. This prompted me to change my situation and do something big.”

Since then, Cristina has worked day in and day out to start a national network to defend the rights and justice for immigrants in the country.

Biggest challenge of being an immigrant in the United States

When Cristina began investigating immigration cases in the United States, she found that hers was not so different from others. Many injustices, vulnerable families, and few opportunities. This was what inspired Cristina to raise her voice and take action to improve the situation for all immigrants in the country.

“For me, the biggest challenges were to feel insecure even when going to school, the grocery store, or a shop. Living with an uncertainty of being deported. You face situations of exploitation, discrimination and often can not do anything about it,” Cristina said. “Often you accept mistreatment and abuse for fear of losing your job.”

Cristina reiterated that her experience was difficult but she is still grateful that it was thanks to her reality that she could find her true passion.

Rewarding work defending immigrants

Cristina is dedicated to contributing to the immigrant community in the United States–working for progressive change and working to eliminate the stigma of being undocumented immigrants. Her efforts have been rewarding because, alongside with many immigrants, they have managed to advocate for the Dream Act or deferred action among other measures to help this community.

“I am committed to my job. I like to strive for positive change and transform lives. My character helps me in quantity to serve my role fully because I think I’m brave and humble. I’m not afraid to raise his voice and talk face to face with the truth. I am humble and dedicated to my work because I do it with love for my community.”

Cristina Jiménez is co-founder and Managing Director of the United We Dream Network. She was recently named among Forbes “30 under 30 in Law and Policy,” one of “21 immigration reform power players” and one of five non-profit leaders who will influence public policy by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She co-founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Dream Mentorship Program at Queens College. She was an immigration policy analyst for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and an immigrant rights organizer at Make the Road New York. Cristina holds a Masters degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the School of Public of Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Business from Queens College, CUNY.