It is a pleasure to join the Trellis Foundation as Program Officer. As an immigrant and first-generation college graduate, increasing higher education attainment for under-resourced communities is a deeply personal mission. My parents, who unfortunately had to pause their higher education journey, instilled in me the importance of a college degree from a young age. Completing my higher education degree was the culmination of the hard work and sacrifices made by my parents so that I would have more professional opportunities.

Navigating the higher education space as an immigrant student in a rural community opened my eyes to the unique challenges and barriers faced by low-income students of color. It jumpstarted my involvement in immigrant and higher education advocacy. Over the past ten years, I’ve worked in various roles to ensure that students in similar circumstances can access the same opportunities in higher education.

As a statewide coordinator for Texas at United We Dream – the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country – I led coalition efforts to protect and expand in-state tuition and financial aid access for undocumented students under the Texas DREAM Act and, on the federal level, executive action protections that ultimately led to the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These victories pointed to two key learnings: first, the confirmation that when directly impacted individuals are front and center of the policy solutions and advocacy efforts, authentic and meaningful change can occur; second, that barriers to higher education are intersectional and require multiple and long-lasting efforts to overcome.

I continued my immigration policy and advocacy work by joining the Texas AFL-CIO – the state federation of labor unions – as their Immigration Policy and Programs Coordinator to empower immigrants around the state who, because of their immigration status or lack of English proficiency, had a much more difficult time joining apprenticeship programs and accessing union jobs that came with skill training, safer workplaces, and benefits.

After gaining experience in both system-level policy advocacy and community-level work directly with students and immigrant populations across Texas, I am deeply committed to ensuring that all students in the state have equitable opportunities to achieve their postsecondary education goals. I share the commitment of the Foundation that we should prioritize strategies that empower students from under-resourced populations to complete meaningful credentials and access new employment opportunities.

As part of the Trellis Foundation team, I look forward to furthering opportunities and outcomes for individuals and communities through philanthropy. I am excited to help accelerate successful initiatives and empower organizations to consider new approaches and partnerships to support student achievement.

About the Author

Jesus Perales joined Trellis Foundation in 2024 with more than ten years of experience in policy and advocacy. Prior to his arrival at the Foundation, he served as the Immigration Policy and Programs Coordinator at the Texas AFL-CIO, the state federation of labor unions. Jesus’ previous experience in higher education includes research, advocacy, and policy work at United We Dream and Young Invincibles and as a legislative staff member at the Texas Senate.

Jesus earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Lamar University and a master’s degree in government and public service from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, focusing on state and local government.