The job “is such an opportunity for me and my family,” said Gomez, 22, sitting in the student center at Georgetown with an eCommerce textbook on the table in front of him.
After a remarkable academic rise, this son of a security guard and a hotel maid has just a few final exams to go before . . . what? He can’t be sure if it will be the six-figure security of investment banking or exile from the only culture he has ever known.
“There is no certainty,” he said. “It still feels like it could be just a tease.”
Uncertainty has defined Gomez’s life since the day in 2007 when immigration agents in Miami rousted him and his brother and parents from bed and took them to a detention center. The family had lost a years-long application struggle for political asylum and ignored multiple orders to leave.
His parents were sent back to Colombia. But after a lobbying campaign by his friends and teachers, Juan was allowed to stay, at least until he finished college. Which he will do, magna cum laude, May 21.
Gomez expects to start work at J.P. Morgan soon afterward, although his permission to remain in the United States extends only through next spring. And the temporary work permit he holds as a student, an I-765 visa, is more common among dishwashers than merger-and-acquisition specialists at blue-chip financial firms.
He hopes the work permit will be renewed, but there are no guarantees.
Gomez’s diploma and job offer might not be typical of the thousands of undocumented students in the United States, but his precarious status is. Like many, he yearns for passage of the Dream Act, legislation that would offer a path to permanent residency to immigrant children who go on to higher education or military service. In December, a version of the bill fell five votes short of passage in the Senate.
“He is a perfect example of the kind of person we don’t want to lose,” said Scott Elfenbein, a high school friend who led the fight to keep Gomez in the country. Elfenbein, a senior at Harvard, started a student group to lobby for the Dream Act. “I sure wouldn’t want to get rid of someone who is going to pay that much in taxes and contribute as much to society as Juan is.”
But opponents say the proposed law amounts to a blanket amnesty.
Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA and a leading opponent of the Dream Act, acknowledges that Gomez is a sympathetic figure. But he places the blame for his fix squarely on choices his family made decades ago.
“The reason that people like him can make the claim they are in this tough situation is because his parents were allowed to break the law by holding a job for year after year,” Beck said. “He’s a very compelling case, but because he’s getting this job, there will be an American somewhere down the line who won’t get one.”