Daughter of Immigrants: A Look Back at My Roots


Jessica Rivas | June 24, 2024

Jessica with a Salvadorian flag

As an American daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, I am dedicated to creating meaningful opportunities for immigrant children and youth in the United States. My advocacy work is deeply rooted in personal experiences and heritage. This heritage includes my parents’ journey escaping the civil war in El Salvador during the 1980s, my father’s solo journey as an unaccompanied minor at 15 years old and crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to Los Angeles and my mother’s detainment as a child with family members at the border. All these experiences lived by my parents highlight the importance of supporting immigrant communities. Legal assistance from the Central American Resource Center in L.A. was pivotal in my family’s release and resettlement in South Central L.A. Today, leveraging my unique academic and professional background and family immigration story, I support unaccompanied children as an HSPRS* Community Engagement Associate at CWS Orange County.

As a first-generation Latina college graduate and professional, I have navigated through various academic and career milestones shaped by my family’s migration story and my parent’s sacrifices. Growing up, my parents, who faced barriers to accessing education, instilled in me the value of seizing opportunities. While my mom graduated from a U.S. high school, my dad had limited education in El Salvador due to poverty, they inspired me to pursue paths they could not access. Attending California State University Long Beach, which is top-ranked among national universities for promoting social mobility, as a transfer student from Riverside City College was a privilege. The mentorship and guidance from the International Studies Department faculty who care about their students were invaluable. In return, I have established a partnership with CSULB’s College of Liberal Arts Internship Program. This collaboration aims to offer CWS internships and volunteer opportunities to fellow first-generation students interested in working with unaccompanied children and refugees.

My personal experiences and immigrant heritage have driven my passion for advocating for unaccompanied children, my commonity and diverse immigrant populations, leading me to pursue further education. After completing my Master of Science degree in International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 2020, I am now embarking on a new academic journey. This September, I will begin my MSc in Global Media and Communications double degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science for the first academic year and at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California for the second academic year. I aim to advance innovative community-led solutions that promote resilience amongst unaccompanied children through community engagement and global outreach. This work is incredibly meaningful to me, as the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants.

*Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children seek refuge in the United States each year. In our Home Study and Post Release Services program, CWS and our network of providers nationwide are working with these children and their sponsors to ensure they have a safe place to land when they arrive.

To learn more about CWS Orange County, click here.

Jessica Rivas is an HSPRS Community Engagement Associate