February 27, 2017

Senator Harris to Bring Biomedical Researcher, DACA Recipient Yuriana Aguilar to Joint Session of Congress

Aguilar is the first DACA Recipient to earn a PhD

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris announced that Fresno native and University of California at Merced alumnus, biomedical researcher, and DACA recipient Yuriana Aguilar will attend President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress as her guest, on Tuesday, February 28. Aguilar is an instructor in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, at Rush Medical College in Chicago, IL, where her research focuses on the human heart. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, biomedical research received increased investments, especially in transnational research; processes were streamlined for approving generic versions of certain drugs; and new disclosures were put in place for payments greater than ten dollars from pharmaceutical and device makers to physicians to increase transparency.

"Researchers like Yuriana are on the cutting edge of advancements that will make our nation healthier," said Senator Harris. "America is the world leader in biomedical research. We must protect that status by continuing to invest in biomedical research through laws, like the Affordable Care Act, and by fostering DREAMers like Yuriana."

Aguilar is also a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented individuals who immigrated to the United States as children, and have no path to citizenship, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. In 2016, she became the first DACAmented student to earn a PhD, when she graduated from the University of California at Merced with a degree from the Quantitative Systems Biology Program. California is home to an estimated one-third of the 750,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children who applied for the DACA.

Aguilar's story can be read in a post published today on Senator Kamala Harris' official Facebook page.

Facebook Post

"For me, there are certainly fears. I fear that I'll be in the flea market one day they will be rounding people up for deportations. I fear that no one is going to care that I have a PhD or that I have lived in the United States for as long as I can remember.

I was born in Apatzingan, Mexico, but Fresno is my home. My parents and I moved there before I started kindergarten. None of us had immigration papers. When I was growing up, my parents always told me that 'no one can take away your education. The government may not give you papers, but they can't take away your learning.'

There have been a lot of obstacles to getting to where I am now. When I went to college, I wasn't eligible for the financial aid and scholarships other students were because of my status. It was very discouraging. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to pursue my PhD, but I didn't qualify for work study programs for the same reason. I couldn't bear to give up research, so for a full year after I graduated I worked in the lab for free.

I'll never forget the day I heard the news about DACA. I was in the lab and I cried. It was emotional - knowing that I would actually be able to continue to work there, continue to do what I love. As soon as I was able, I applied to the University of California-Merced, where I graduated with a PhD from the Quantitative Systems Biology Program. I hope to one day have my own research lab where I can study sudden cardiac arrest syndrome.

The best part about my work?... Science doesn't have borders, there are no limitations on its advancement."