Seattle Times article by former GHP client: My journey from an undocumented immigrant to Harvard Medical School

By Carlos Estrada Alamo

The Seattle Times:

AFTER years of delay, President Obama has finally acted on immigration reform. This is a watershed moment in my life and the life of my community in Seattle. These days I am studying for a doctor of medicine degree at Harvard Medical School, after graduating from the University of Washington in 2011. But I grew up undocumented in Seattle.

I was 5 years old when my family embarked on a journey from Mexico to the “land of opportunity.” They chose Seattle because we had relatives in the area. We eventually settled in the Delridge neighborhood near White Center.

Despite my parents’ numerous attempts to obtain a green card, they found no viable option. With their choice to remain and endure came a sense of fear and uncertainty as “illegal aliens,” a status that marred our every connection with the world. Despite working six days a week in low-paying jobs offering no benefits, my parents had trouble providing for my family. At school I was perpetually aware of the consequences of having my illegal status revealed. I was plagued by nightmares of being caught and deported. This was my childhood.

At a young age, I understood my duty was to not allow my parents’ sacrifice to have been in vain. Although I felt inhibited in some capacities by my status, I nonetheless felt compelled to respond to the injustices my family and I encountered.

The curse of poverty that afflicted my family also poisoned the health of my community. Inadequate access to care coupled with fear and distrust toward health-care providers were ubiquitous among my fellow immigrants. I soon realized that below the surface of our skin, we were all fundamentally the same — we all need to be valued and acknowledged for our inherent worth. This understanding was a catalyst in my desire to become a doctor — the kind of doctor that people in my community would trust.

Despite being ineligible for federal financial aid and uncertain about how my undocumented status would affect me, I applied to college, a risk that many of my undocumented peers did not take. When I was granted admission to the University of Washington at the age of 18, I knew I was one step closer to my dream: to become a compassionate and culturally responsive doctor.

Like other undocumented immigrants who pursue college, I was catapulted into a new world. I pursued two degrees, in bioengineering and biochemistry, and I joined a research lab to help develop a novel HIV diagnostic system for the developing world. In my mind, medicine and technology became intertwined and it was encouraging to discover the social impact I could have — not only on my immediate community, but on the world.

To say that my life changed two years ago would be a complete understatement. When I received my permanent resident card, sponsored by my wonderful wife Carmen, I finally felt like I belonged. I am now at Harvard with support from the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. Though I look forward to finally becoming a U.S. citizen, I will forever carry with me remnants of my past — and I am thankful, for they have provided me with a unique outlook on life, which will make me a better doctor. But, I do not wish my childhood on anyone.

Before President Obama’s announcement, millions of people suffered in the shadows with the stress and self-doubt of being undocumented. Today, I know that the kids and families who have been touched by the president’s action on immigration reform now have a shot. The work is not done, and a permanent path to citizenship is still needed. But today we must celebrate and welcome the hardworking people who have long contributed to America’s success.

Carlos Estrada Alamo grew up in West Seattle, graduated from the University of Washington and is currently studying for his doctor of medicine degree at Harvard Medical School.

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