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Anabel Pérez

College: Baruch College
Awards: New York City Urban Fellows Program, 2015

Being American

Anabel Perez Jimenez has won the public service trifecta. She landed a 2015 New York City Urban Fellowship to complement prior internships in Washington with Rep. Charles Rangel and in Albany with Assembly Member Luis R. Sepúlveda, who then hired her in his Bronx district office.

Not bad for an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic who continues to challenge the nasty narrative that undocumented immigrants are a weight on society.

"I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to represent the minority community in the United States," says Perez (Baruch College, B.A., Public Affairs '15).

She immigrated with her mother at 12, but didn't learn her status until she was 16, taking SATs and planning how to pay for college. "It was very unfortunate to have to turn down a scholarship for valedictorians simply because I didn't have a Social Security number."

With her mother's savings, she enrolled in Borough of Manhattan Community College. After six classes and a 4.0 average, she won BMCC's Out in Two Scholarship, an academic program designed to help students graduate within two years. She finished her A.A. in business administration in three semesters and transferred to Baruch, intent on becoming a bilingual accountant.

Then came her Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute internship. "I didn't have any public policy experience and I didn't think they'd accept me," she says. But President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order in 2012 protected undocumented young people who had arrived in this country as children; they would not be deported and could work.

She arrived in Rangel's office in 2013 before Congress shut down for two weeks after failing to pass a budget. With federal employees furloughed, interns stepped up to continue constituent services. "All of a sudden, the internship became more hands-on, since interns were exercising their leadership and interpersonal skills while getting through the crisis," she says. It took a month for Congress to get back on track, including catching up with postponed hearings. "It was a remarkable experience."

Her mentor, Distinguished Lecturer Michael Feller, then encouraged her to seek an internship in Albany. She was placed with Sepúlveda, then a freshman. "During non-session days, I ran the upstate office. During session days, I had the privilege of going to committee and caucus meetings on his behalf while assisting in outreach to his constituency." In 2014, he offered her a part-time job as executive administrator of his Bronx office.

As a New York City Urban Fellow, Perez she will explore policy-making in a city agency for nine months. She hopes for a role in immigrant affairs. Afterward, she is considering law school - and longs for a way immigrants like her can move toward citizenship.

"People seem to lack understanding of how challenging it is to be undocumented," Perez says. "I'm an American just like everyone else, just not on paper."