Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez is a fighter, an advocate and a powerful voice for immigrants across the state of Pennsylvania.
However, the 28 year-old says the hardest thing he has ever done was revealing his status as an undocumented person.
“It was very difficult for me to come out as undocumented,” he says. “The first person I told was in high school, when I needed guidance to apply for college. I was terrified. I didn’t know how he was going to respond.”
Gonzalez, who is a beneficiary of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that allows young immigrants living in the country illegally defer deportation and secure work permits, uses his own story to inspire others to take action.
He wants undocumented people to “come out of the shadows,” especially at a time when immigrant rights are in the spotlight and the DACA program is currently under review by the Trump administration.
“It’s crucial, now more than ever, that people come out as undocumented,” he says. “It puts a face on the issue and lets other people know who the people are who are being affected by this.”
Gonzalez was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States at age 11. He first lived in Reading and then moved to Lancaster, where he graduated from Hempfield High School.
He attended HACC in Lancaster for two years before graduating from Amherst College in 2014.
After college, Gonzalez moved to Chicago, where he worked as a field coordinator for a political campaign and helped advocate for raising the state minimum wage while also mobilizing immigrant voters. He continued his political career with a fellowship for a California congressman in 2015, before working for Church World Services in Lancaster.
Gonzalez attended the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar, where he earned his first master’s degree and then followed that up with a second master’s degree as a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University in China.
He returned to central Pennsylvania and took a job with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.
At this Philadelphia-based agency, he served as the statewide capacity building coordinator.
“The heart of this organization is advocacy,” he says. “We advocated for better policies, more welcoming programs for immigrants, both locally and at the national level.”
Gonzalez specifically worked with the coalition’s partner organizations to provide training and help the organizations reach the full capacity of their services while overseeing the PA is Ready! grant to fund these programs.
Additionally, he participated in nonpartisan civic engagement work with the coalition, including helping new Americans register to vote after their citizenship ceremony, and organizing phone banks and canvass opportunities to make sure they have the support they need to get out and vote at election time.
He sees his role in politics as more important than ever.
“Last election cycle, we saw a surge in anti-immigrant and negative rhetoric targeted toward immigrants — that immigrants are criminals, freeloaders, you name it — and that’s streaming far from the truth,” he says. “Statistics and reports show this isn’t true, but it’s a very powerful narrative to stir emotions and for politicians to get themselves into power.”
Gonzalez wants to emphasize that the opportunities he had — from his education to his jobs — were not handed to him.
“None of this was paid for by taxpayers,” he says. “Undocumented people don’t quality for anything, including financial aid for school. I work hard, and I pay taxes. I feel privileged in the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and I want to do something to help my community.”
He says he is in a unique position to make a difference.
“Having lived undocumented, I have a personal connection to immigration issues,” he says. “My whole goal is for younger kids, whether documented or not, to have it easier than I do.”
Gonzalez joined the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs and represents Lancaster County with the group.
“We advise the governor of policy that we think will positively impact the Latino community,” he says. “Most people are aware of issues and want to help, but don’t know what to do. My job is to bridge the desire to act with what we want to do with the commission.”
He says he doesn’t plan to stop fighting for immigrant rights until he sees a brighter future — for all immigrants, including himself.
He admits that future is a little uncertain at the moment.
“I want Congress to act and pass a bill that would create a path to citizenship,” he says. “I don’t want to be a second-class citizen. It’s really hard not knowing if I’m going to be able to stay in this country.”
He dreams of one day going to law school and owning his own business, but right now, he says those are only dreams.
“I can’t properly plan my life the way I want to,” he says. “For example, if I want to buy a house, is that a good decision if I’m going to be deported? DACA gave us a taste of legal status and the outcomes of this policy were positive.
“Imagine what we could accomplish if we had a more permanent status.”