Before becoming a highly regarded heart researcher at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Yuliana Aguilar battled and overcame more than her fair share of obstacles.
Her parents came to the U.S. illegally when she was just 5 years old. While neither of her parents completed elementary school, Aguilar says they always pushed their children to do their school work and volunteer.
Aguilar’s determination and academic success yielded valedictorian honors in high school class in Fresno, California, but her undocumented status meant that she could not receive any financial aid to pursue her dreams.
“I first found out I was undocumented when I was applying for college,” Aguilar said.
Undeterred by these barriers, Aguilar earned scholarships, graduated from college and also earned her Ph.D. in cardiac electrophysiology at the University of California, Merced. With last year’s announced end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed some 700,000 to obtain work permits, the last few months have been difficult for Aguilar and her family.
“I had a very insecure future. I’m the bread winner of my family, so it was very difficult to say it was going to be okay when in reality I was not sure,” Aguilar said.
While DACA is still not technically over and multiple courts have halted various aspects, conflicting decisions and orders mean that the program’s future is still very much in doubt. Aguilar learned two weeks ago that her work permit had been extended to 2020, but she says the images of families being separated at the border remind her of her own uncertain future.
“I have two daughters, and I can’t imagine being separated from them,” she said.
Last December, Koch Industries Chairman and CEO Charles Koch co-authored an op-ed in support of congressional action for the dreamers with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Read it here.
This story originally appeared as a Freedom to Flourish segment, sponsored by Koch Industries, on Hill.TV’s Rising with Krystal & Buck.