Dan-el Padilla Peralta

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Dan-el Padilla Peralta (also, Dan-el Padilla) is the 2006 Latin salutatorian of Princeton University. An undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic, he rose from poverty and homelessness to show promise, according to one faculty member, as "one of the best classicists to emerge in his generation".[1]

Family and childhood[edit]

Padilla and his family entered the United States legally in 1989, when Padilla was four years old, on a six-month temporary visa, so that his mother could obtain emergency medical care arising from diabetes-related pregnancy complications. In need of continuing care, the family applied for a further visa extension but never heard back from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[citation needed] Padilla's father, unable to find work, returned to the Dominican Republic while his mother overstayed her visa to raise Padilla and his infant brother in homeless shelters in New York City.

In 1994 Padilla, then living with his family in a shelter in Bushwick, Brooklyn, met photographer Jeff Cowen, who took an interest in the young boy.[1] With Cowen's tutelage and encouragement Padilla won a scholarship to Cowen's alma mater high school, Collegiate School in Manhattan[1] At Collegiate Padilla learned Greek, Latin, and French, participated in debate tournaments, and was described by an administrator as "one of the most powerful intellects" to ever attend the school.[1][2]

Padilla applied for early admission to Princeton and was accepted in December, 2001.[3] He admitted on his application that he did not have legal status in the United States. Princeton nevertheless awarded him a full scholarship out of its own funds (because federal aid programs are not available to non-residents).[1] At Princeton Padilla earned a 3.9 grade point average, and was named salutatorian of his class. He majored in Classics, studying ancient Rome and Greece, despite having never been to Europe. He often took twice the normal course load.[1] At the 2006 commencement ceremony, he delivered the traditional address in Latin.[2] His mother, at the time, lived in Harlem and worked as a maid.

In 2014, Padilla became a Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. As a Fellow he was a Lecturer in Classics at Columbia.

Immigration status[edit]

Padilla's case[edit]

In early 2006 Padilla won a two-year scholarship for a second bachelor's degree at Worcester College of Oxford University[1][2] Attending Oxford would require Padilla to leave the United States, upon which he would likely be unable to return legally due to having no visa. Due to his having been in the United States illegally, if discovered, he would have been unable to apply for ten years. Further, without a work visa he would be unable to find work in the United States as a scholar and professor, his intended occupation.[1] Padilla raised $10,000 from his friends for legal support and, in early April 2006, applied for a visa under a United States program allowing visa grants to illegal immigrants under "extraordinary circumstances".[1] Despite personal appeals from Senator Hillary Clinton (whose husband, Bill Clinton called President George W. Bush on the subject), Charles Schumer, Charlie Rangel, Jane Harman, Mark Dayton, and other members of the United States House of Representatives and Senate, the deans of the Harvard Law School and the Woodrow Wilson School, asking Michael Chertoff and Emilio Gonzalez to personally review Padilla's file, Citizenship and Immigration Services (the agency now responsible for issuing visas) declined to consider his application.[4]

In April 2007 Padilla was issued a one-year H-1B Visa allowing him to work as a research assistant at Princeton while attending Oxford.[5][6] As of March, 2008, Padilla's longer-term visa status remained on appeal.[7] As of March 2012 Padilla was a Ph.D. student in Classics at Stanford University.[8]

National context[edit]

In 2006, an estimated 65,000 illegal immigrant students, out of a total population of 2 million illegal residents under the age of 18, graduated from high school in the United States.[1] Approximately 10-15% attended college.[1]

There is no law prohibiting colleges from accepting illegal immigrants or requiring them to report them to authorities.[3] However, they are ineligible for federal financial aid programs, subject to deportation if discovered, and ineligible for employment upon graduation. Princeton has no official policy on undocumented students, but has rejected otherwise qualified students for being in the United States illegally.[3]

Along with his academic and political supporters Padilla campaigned unsuccessfully in 2006 for passage of the DREAM Act, which would have allowed highly qualified high school graduates who had been illegal immigrants since childhood, to become legal residents if they agreed to attend college or served in the United States Armed Forces.[4] The bill had been introduced several times since 2001, but never obtained enough support to overcome filibusters.

Padilla's story attracted the attention of Hollywood, leading to interest in movie rights and a book deal.[4] Padilla's younger brother, Yando, is a United States citizen, by virtue of his birth in the United States.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Miriam Jordan (2006-04-15). "Illegal at Princeton". Wall Street Journal. 
  2. ^ a b c Eric Quiñones (2006-05-25). "Study of past sets salutatorian on course for future". Princeton University. 
  3. ^ a b c d Sophia Ahern Dwosh and Jennifer Epstein (2006-04-28). "American dream: Padilla '06 rose from poverty to the top of his class. Now he has one more goal: a visa.". Daily Princetonian. 
  4. ^ a b c Tatiana Lau (2006-09-15). "Padilla's future remains uncertain:Sachs scholar leaves for Oxford, still an illegal". Daily Princetonian. 
  5. ^ Diana Furchtgott-Roth (2007-05-18). "Give This Law an ‘A'". New York Sun. 
  6. ^ Michael Juel-Larsen (2007-04-27). "Beyond the Gate:Padilla '06 receives one-year visa". Daily Princetonian. 
  7. ^ Tom Weber (2008-03-04). "Students march for Minnesota Dream Act". Minnesota Public Radio. 
  8. ^ "Dan-El Padilla Peralta". http://www.stanford.edu. 

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