Padilla ’06 discusses DREAM Act, his past
Four years later, Padilla returned to campus to share his story at an event promoting the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, proposed legislation in Congress that would enable children of illegal immigrants to become permanent residents upon receiving a bachelor’s degree or completing two years of military service.
In his address in Campus Club, Padilla asked an audience of roughly 25 people to “note that I have avoided the use of the term illegal immigrant because I think it is incredibly demeaning to classify someone’s existence as ‘illegal.’ I think it naturally leads us to ask him, ‘Well, if we can classify the person’s existence as illegal, what things may we be inclined to do to that person that fall outside of the law and outside of ethical constraints?’ ”
Four years after his birth in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Padilla’s family emigrated to New York. His mother was pregnant and experiencing complications with her diabetes, so in order to see the pregnancy through, she sought the prenatal care available in the United States.
After the birth of his brother, Padilla’s parents had to decide whether to remain in New York or return to the Dominican Republic, where they had given up professional jobs. As Padilla recalled, “It was at this point that Mom ... had been thinking about what it would mean for her children to stay in the U.S. and enjoy a U.S. education ... She wanted my brother and me to go to school in the United States ... She heard of places like Harvard and Princeton and thought it would be amazing if I could go to one."
Tough times followed for Padilla. His parents separated, and when his father returned to the Dominican Republic, his mother sought refuge for herself and her children in several shelters.
On what he described as “the most thrilling day of my life,” Padilla gained a scholarship to attend the Collegiate School in New York, where he “became very interested in classics.”
At a University information session, an admission officer told him that his status as an undocumented student would not affect his application.
Padilla earned at 3.9 GPA at the University and won the Sachs Scholarship to study at Oxford, before legally returning to the United States on a visa to work as a research assistant for his former thesis adviser.
He then obtained permission to convert the visa to a student visa, allowing him to study for his doctorate in classics at Stanford.
When the Wall Street Journal article was published, “it was weird as hell,” Padilla recalled. “The day the Wall Street Journal article came out, I was in the basement of Robertson writing away, and I went to Terrace for lunch, and all these people of Terrace came up to me and said, ‘Oh my god. How does it feel to be famous?’ I felt very weird about that, and I still struggle with it.”
The questions didn’t just come at lunch. “I just wanted to go to parties on the Street,” he recalled. “It is more and more difficult to do, especially when people would come up to me with questions, and I’d just say, ‘Well, I’m on a taproom floor.’ ”
After graduating, Padilla visited members of Congress to lobby for the DREAM Act.
He said that he supports the bill because “students should not be victimized for the decisions their parents make,” adding that all students, not just academic all-stars, should deserve the opportunities he was afforded.
Harold Fernandez ’89, who also attended the University as an illegal immigrant, was also scheduled to speak at the event. But the cardiologist was unable to attend because he had to perform emergency surgery. The event was sponsored by DREAM Team, a new student group formed to support the proposed legislation.