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York College student born in Mexico wants to help others chase their American dream

Jenifer in front of building

Jenifer Hernandez-Vargas ’23 was too young to remember coming to the United States, but she knows the story well. Her father was already living and working in America and had obtained citizenship. Her mother, just 18 years old, didn’t want their family to be separated.

In search of better opportunities and the chance to be together, Hernandez-Vargas and her mother came to the United States from Mexico without documentation. Their journey to citizenship would inspire the young girl’s future career goals.

Now a student at York College of Pennsylvania, she’s set her heart on becoming an immigration lawyer to help others in pursuit of their American dream.

An opportunity to succeed

The lawyer who helped Hernandez-Vargas and her mother through the process of naturalization became a mentor—guiding her as she grew older on what courses she should study and why it was important to pursue an education. “He was a good role model to me,” she says.

Many families, like that of Hernandez-Vargas, have limited resources and don’t know the language, she says. It took some time for her to learn English, and she admittedly still struggles sometimes. But having resources and access to programs helped her family succeed. “People come here chasing the American dream,” she says. “So, why not allow them the benefits to achieve those goals?”

Growing up in York City, one of those benefits that helped Hernandez-Vargas succeed was the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program, better known as YCCOSP. The program provides accepted students in the York City School District the opportunity to pursue a college education with room and board at no cost. It also allowed her to dual enroll as a high school senior, giving her a jumpstart on her college education.

Now, Hernandez-Vargas says, she has the opportunity to pursue her own American dream, without worry of limitations or burden to her family who has worked so hard to give her a chance to succeed.

Paying it forward

Many William Penn Senior High School graduates will be the first in their families to attend college, Hernandez-Vargas says. That’s why the YCCOSP program is so important; it gives students an opportunity to meet York College students who can be role models.

“They’re really like family,” she says. “The program provides a network of people who are cheering for you. They want to see you succeed. They’ve been where you are.”

Although early in her college experience, she has already met professionals and local leaders who have strengthened her network. And she has leaned on faculty to guide her in the right steps to take so she can reach her goals.

“I don’t think I’d have these opportunities if I were living anywhere else,” she says. “York College made it possible for me to do things that may not have been available to me otherwise. I won’t let that opportunity go to waste.”