For over a decade, Cristina Jímenez Moreta has been championing the rights of undocumented immigrant youth. Today, her tireless work was recognized by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which named Jímenez Moreta among the 24 winners of this year’s MacArthur Fellowships, or “genius grants.” At 33, she is this year’s youngest grant recipient.
The $625,000 grants – given out over a period of five years with no strings attached – are so-called because there is no application; they are simply awarded to people who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” There are no requirements for what winners must do with the money. In other words the Foundation basically says “You’re a genius and we want you to keep doing you.”
As a co-founder and executive director of United We Dream (UWD), Cristina was instrumental in creating the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country. She helped build a movement that made DREAMers the face of the immigration debate, and she was part of the UWD campaign team that resulted in the historic Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Today, she leads UWD’s network of 57 affiliates, which are fighting harder than ever for a clean DREAM Act in the face of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program.
Cristina’s advocacy is rooted in her own experience. Originally from Ecuador, she moved the United States with her family at age 13, and attended both high school and college as an undocumented student. “I could only think of my parents as I received the news of this award. It was my mother and father who heroically risked everything to come to the United States from Ecuador seeking a better life for my family,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “This award celebrates the resilience and strength of my parents and and of all immigrants who’ve defeated the odds to make the United States their home.”
Jímenez Moreta is not the only fellow this year whose work centers on issues of migration policy and the rights of these often marginalized communities. Among the other grant recipients is Jason De León, a University of Michigan professor and anthropologist, who documents and studies human migration between Latin America and the United States. De León’s work, particularly his ongoing Undocumented Migration Project, has been instrumental in shining a light on the human consequences of U.S. immigration policy.