CLEVELAND –  September 3, 2020

The Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1995, is proud to announce the winner of its $1,000 Scholarship:  Ms. Laura Perez Vicencio, an immigrant from Tequila, Mexico, who resides in Utah.

The Herman Legal Group sponsored this scholarship to encourage greater appreciation for undocumented immigrant workers, many of whom are valiantly working on the frontlines of COVID-19.

Ms. Perez Vicencio’s winning essay is entitled, The “I” Word, and beautifully answers the question:  What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word Immigrant?

Here is a sample of her poignant message that resonates in these difficult times:

Growing up, my mother was a housekeeper, and dad, a construction worker. They worked hard from dusk to dawn every day. Even on the weekends, my parents would find a way to earn more income for our growing family. Going to work meant we would have a roof over our heads and not have to live in the streets….

I was happy that my parents had the jobs they did. My classmate’s parents worked hard, but not as much as mine did. I was so proud but was ashamed of saying what my parents did for a living. When asked what my parents did for a living, I was ashamed to speak the truth so instead, I would reply with “I’m not sure what they do, something that has to do with the government.”

I had no idea what that even meant but at that time, I thought it was better than saying a housekeeper or construction worker. On career days, all the parents would show up in their white coats or firefighter’s outfits. I remember being embarrassed to say that my parents were from Mexico and what my parents really did for work.  I wanted to be like the others, I wanted parents who didn’t work in housekeeping or construction.

As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to love and embrace my culture. I love that I’m a dreamer, I am unique and I have a story to tell. I love that I’m from Mexico (Tequila, Jalisco to be exact). I love that I can say I’m from Tequila, where the best Tequila is made! I love what my parents do for work.

My dad can build me a house if he wanted to and my mom could teach me tips and tricks on deep cleaning my house. I’ve learned not to be ashamed of my roots but rather to be proud of where I come from. I’ve learned that my parents are not only hard workers but they are so much more. They are there to heal me when I’m sick or get hurt, they are my therapists when I need someone to talk to, they are so much more than where they come from and what they do for work. They crossed the border thinking about my future, they are self-less. They stand up from themselves when a person at the grocery store tells them to go back to their country, they are self-advocates. They are cooks, an encyclopedia, storytellers, singers, actors, and comedians and so much more.

When I hear the word Immigrant, I think of my parentsImmigrants are people who risk their lives and give everything they have. Immigrants are the persons who are willing to take their sweaters off their back only for you to be warm.  They are those who work housekeeping and construction jobs only to come and have a roof over their heads. Immigrants are those who go to work every day no matter the circumstance to be able to provide for their families. Immigrants are responsible, hard-workers who sacrifice every little bit they have to make their families happy. They are taxpayers who contribute to our economy. They save lives, they are educators, mentors, and defenders of the only country they know so well. They are so much more than their place of birth and jobs, they are our heroes.

when i hear the word immigrant

The essay scholarship attracted many outstanding essay submissions from immigrants from around the world and residing throughout the U.S. On its website, the Herman Legal Group has published the winning essay, as well as 8 runner-up essays, to help give voice to the undocumented community.

The essayists share their personal feelings about being an immigrant who contributes to the well-being of the United States, who has deep ties to the United States, and yet has no legal pathway to normalize her immigration status.

We hope these essays help stimulate a healthier conversation in the U.S. about immigration, to help humanize the “other,” and to encourage our elected officials to move on legislation that would provide an earned pathway to permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship, to the undocumented.

As you read the essays, you can’t help but feel that these folks are already Americans, but simply have no papers.

To read the inspiring stories from the contest’s finalists, see the following:

1st Runner-Up:  “Recently, I went on a date with my boyfriend at my favorite spot, the local drive-in movie theater.  A security guard at a drive-in was trying to tell me to either move my car from where I was parked, or to turn it off.  He came off as very rude however.  He made faces at me, and looked annoyed.  He looked at me straight in the eyes and asked, ‘Do you even know English?’  I was shocked, since our whole conversation had been in English, I answered him, yes, I do.  He asked again, and once again I answered, yes.  ‘We’ve been speaking English this whole time.’  He then looked around, fully annoyed, and asked, ‘Are you even from America?’  I told him no, I wasn’t.  He looked mad now, no longer annoyed.  I can’t really explain the look on his face, but it made be scared….I cried a lot.  I called my boyfriend, who was meeting me there, and lost it, becoming a tearful mess.  I had never felt so out of place before.  Looking around, it looked like I was the only person of color at the drive-in.”  (Oklahoma)

2nd Runner-Up:  “It wasn’t until I moved to Washington, DC, when I gathered the courage to tell the truth.  Surrounded by the George Washington monument, and other statues, I realized that none of it belonged to me.  I felt like a coward cadging in my identity as an immigrant…that seemed to paralyze me.” (Puerto Rico)

3rd Runner-Up:  “The success of a species corresponds with genetic diversity.  The more variety in the DNA pool the easier it is to find a niche and can facilitate adaptation.  I believe that the mind works in the same way; with a wide range of ideas and knowledge of different cultures, one will have an easier time navigating life’s trials.  If we invite immigrants to enter our inner circles we have an amazing opportunity to learn and expand our toolset.  We could learn to code-switch in an instance, navigate through foreign menus, have interesting conversations, and many more.” (Utah)

4th Runner-Up:  “Every day I am haunted by a ghost. Every night he whispers into my ears. He speaks of my triumphs, my failures, my joys, my sorrows. He is the dry air on a warm summer’s day, unstained by the foreign humidity of America. He is the moon in the sky, the same moon that made me dream of astronauts and whimsical science fiction as a child. He sowed the seeds of what grew to be my passion for engineering and computer science. He is the shadows in the corners of my alien suburbia that dredge up memories of running through streets in my hometown’s evenings. He is my best friend’s hazel eyes, the color of those of my first love from a lifetime ago. He is the numb shock of hearing about others’ tragedy, and the bittersweet delight of hearing about my friend’s dreams. When I look at him, he has retained his youth despite my advancement of years. His impish face used to taunt me, with his self-assured smile taunting my insecurities. When I first came to America, he was my twin, but now he is a stranger. I am not the only one haunted by ghosts. They haunt all refugees and asylees. When one is violently separated from the familiarity of life others take for granted, a divorce of the spirit occurs. Life is fractured into pieces” (Virginia)

5th Runner-Up:  “I avoid the word. Outwardly, I am proud to be one and even prouder to be the daughter of two. Inwardly, I am confused. I can’t pinpoint what I feel or think of when I hear the word, because I’ve never been able to clearly define it for myself. Regardless, it’s a part of who I am and an even larger part of how I live. I am an immigrant. I didn’t have a choice in coming to America. When my parents brought me here at the age of three years old, my Philippine umbilical cord was cut. I was torn from my motherland…  I harbor fear and resentment at the word because I didn’t know my status until Obama was in office. I vaguely understood that we had immigrated and that we weren’t citizens, but my parents kept everything secretive…My parents told me that I couldn’t tell anyone. It was a big secret that I fearfully bottled up. … I think it was slow to sink in because I didn’t realize the impact that it had on my life. I knew I was an immigrant like I knew my skin was brown. One day, it just hits you. Maybe it was when I tried to apply for work and they asked for my green card. Maybe it was when my sister tried to apply for college and couldn’t. Maybe it was when my dad was swept up and arrested… At some point, I no longer saw myself as a regular kid growing up in my hometown. I was an “alien”. I was no longer openly accepted into society, I had to stay safe. People have power over me in ways that I can’t control. I lived almost my entire life in America, but I wasn’t American. The future I had dreamed of no longer existed. Everything I thought I understood was now questionable, and nothing seemed to be reality anymore.  Before DACA, I went through a battle with drugs, depression, and sexual trauma. I had felt lost and alone, floating around.” (California)

6th Runner-Up:  “Entrepreneur. Innovator. Risk-Taker. Citizen. Human.  These are the words that come to mind when I think of ‘immigrant’…..They both envisioned a place that is foreign to them as a place to settle down and plant their roots. They had never seen anything outside of what their city offered them.  They knew there had to be more….the husband built his company to employ a significant number of employees while the wife was made chief physician at a hospital that was able to be built from the fruits of their company’s success.”  (Minnesota)

7th Runner-Up:  The word “immigrant” to me means evolving.  One ventures outside of their homeland for the unknown and learns about themselves.  Their strengths, their weaknesses, and their capabilities become tools to help them acclimate into their new home.  Adjusting to a different culture with a different environment forces a person to step away from themselves and learn who they truly are from the outside…..In the current pandemic that we face, some of us, as a pharmacy technician myself, are now working in the healthcare industry as frontliners.  Little by little we have emerged from the shadows and are now evolving…”   (Arizona)

8th Runner-Up:  “There is a greatness to the word Immigrant and those to whom it refers. When I think of an Immigrant or Immigrants I think of the most courageous, bold, and hopeful people on this earth, especially those who are undocumented. People often fail to see the courage it takes to leave your home country with the knowledge you may never get to come back home. People think we emigrate like some people vacation, which is when they feel like it. But that is not the case. Immigration is often a permanent decision, that means you will likely never see your family again. Family events, births, weddings, and funerals will happen at home without you, and these events will happen to you in a foreign land without your family there. Outside of the immigrant community, I don’t know many people who would be brave enough to do that. Along with being courageous, to be an Immigrant one must be bold in the sense that they are pursuing a life that was not outlined for them. A life that goes past bounds and restrictions placed on them. If you have been privileged enough to live in a culture that encourages you to dream or a society that easily allows for you to pursue your dreams, you may fail to appreciate the audacity and boldness it takes for an Immigrant to pursue a different a life. Lastly, Immigrants are hopeful. How else would one take the biggest chance and risk their lives if not for hope? Hope in a better life. Hope in a safer life. Hope in life itself. To immigrate to a new country, you typically are hoping for something better, something worth leaving the comforts you have known and the family and friends you love. As an immigrant and a child of immigrants I could go on and on. I am filled with pride when I hear the word Immigrant because I know of the sacrifices made by the people it represents, and I know of their resilience. We are not what people have made us to be; we are greater.” (Texas)

We are facing the most challenging healthcare and economic crises in 100 years. The pandemic impacts everyone.

Undocumented immigrants are especially vulnerable.  U.S. policy on immigration has increasingly become more aggressive and unwelcoming to immigrants. Despite the data to the contrary, many people now believe that immigrants undermine the U.S. economy and do not make the nation stronger.

As immigration attorneys, we at the Herman Legal Group understand the moral and economic imperative to support undocumented immigrants, particularly those who are working to keep us safe and healthy.

Undocumented workers are often toiling in high-risk conditions of virus transmission, unprotected by any Personal Protection Equipment, and are getting sick.

Yet, despite their important contributions to the United States, including paying taxes, most undocumented workers (and even some U.S. citizen spouses) are not eligible to receive stimulus checks from the Federal Government, and their families are disproportionately feeling the devastating impact of economic downturn.

Even during this pandemic, the undocumented population continues to be vilified and face the prospect of arrest, detention, deportation, and permanent separation from their U.S. citizen children.

On the eve of our Presidential Election, the founder of the Herman Legal Group, Richard Herman, reflects on how the U.S. Government, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, brutally treats immigrants, many of whom have U.S. citizen spouses, children and parents:

“I have been an immigration lawyer for over 25 years.  I have seen nearly everything one can imagine within the immigration legal arena.  However, nothing compares in scope and degree to Trump’s assault on the civil liberties of immigrants, their families, and employers. As an American, it’s deeply saddening to see the Statue of Liberty metaphorically transformed into a tacky, blinking, neon sign, projecting the words: “NO VACANCY.”

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies ignore the important economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants, America’s “Dream-Keepers.”

Herman, who co-authored the book, Immigrant, Inc. – Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (and how they will save the American Worker) (Wiley 2009), says that Trump’s immigration policies harm U.S. workers and the ability to rebuild the economy from the ravages of COVID-19:

“The data shows that immigrant workers complement, rather than compete against, native-born workers, because they tend to have different levels of education, work in different occupations, specialize in different tasks, and live in different places.

Much like the President’s disregard of medical experts who warn against large public gatherings, and their urgent proclamations for using face masks, testing, and tracing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the President is now disregarding the economic experts whose research demonstrates that immigrant workers create jobs and help expand the U.S. economy through innovation (particularly in STEM fields), entrepreneurship, consumption, exports, and filling gaps in the labor market.

Immigrants and their children have founded 40% of the Fortune 500, employing millions of Americans.  The data on immigrants’ job-creation propensity is staggering:

*    Immigrants are twice as likely to start a business than American-born: ·

*    Immigrants are twice as likely to earn a patent than American-born ·

*    Immigrants have familial and friendship networks around the world to facilitate U.S. exports and attraction of capital.

The country has lost its way.   Immigrants, and our embrace of them, will remind us of our destination.

The Herman Legal Group extends its warm appreciation to all the essay contestants for helping us find our way.  Please stay in touch and keep an eye on our site for our scholarship program in 2021.


Contact Our Firm for More Information 

Herman Legal Group

Founded in 1995, the Herman Legal Group specializes in all aspects of immigration law.  We are proud to represent immigrants from all walks of life.  We are headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio and have offices throughout the country.  We serve clients in over 12 languages, in all 50 states. We have been voted for inclusion in the 2015-2020 editions of The Best Lawyers in America© and listed in Super Lawyers© for more than fourteen consecutive years. Our founder, Richard Herman, began his immigration law career by moving to Moscow, Russia in 1993, straight out of law school, to eventually open a law office two blocks from the Kremlin to represent post-Soviet entrepreneurs. As an authority on U.S. immigration law and a provocateur for immigrant-friendly, pro-entrepreneur policies, Richard is often invited to strategize and deliver keynote addresses around the country, as he has often done for Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch’s Partnership for a New American Economy, chambers of commerce, universities and cities. Known for his direct and sometimes controversial style, Richard has appeared in numerous national media outlets.  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (And How They Will Save the American Worker) (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Richard is one of the pioneers of the movement by Midwest cities to attract and welcome immigrants who can help grow the economy, create jobs and reverse progressive depopulation.  Known for his direct and sometimes controversial style, Richard has appeared on FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, and has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Inc., PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch and InformationWeek. Richard is married to Kimberly Chen, an immigrant from Taiwan who overcame her undocumented status to become an American physician. They live in the Cleveland area with their two children, whom they are raising to be citizens of the world.  The law firm has offices in ColumbusCincinnatiToledoAkronYoungstownDaytonPittsburghDetroitAnn ArborCharlotteBuffaloDallasChicagoQueens, MiamiTorontoManila.  

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