When Nadina Feakins left Argentina as a teenager, she admits that she had no idea what she had gotten herself into. “I was just a kid and I had dreams of getting an education in America,” she says. “I thought education was the way, but I was uneducated about what kind of a struggle I was about to endure.” The struggle paid off, and today Feakins is a Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited Representative at the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center. With her non-profit-based certification, she represents immigrants in court and testifies on their behalf.
Growing up in Argentina, education was always the priority in Feakins’s household. “My mom grew up poor and didn’t have the opportunity to graduate. My dad inherited his father’s business and school was never an option for him, either,” she says. At 17, Feakins came to the United States on a tourist visa and quickly realized that in America, opportunity was considered a right rather than something you received by chance. For this reason, she decided to stay and pursue her degree at a college in Pennsylvania.
For the next three years, Feakins lived in Lancaster as an undocumented immigrant. With her background in dance, she found a volunteer job teaching children at a local ballet academy. Still, she lived in constant fear of being deported and was scared to open up and make friends. Eventually, after meeting and marrying her American citizen husband, she enrolled in community college. She transferred to Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where she received a criminal justice degree. “I wanted to be involved in my local community’s immigration system, and I was fascinated by the law and justice,” she says. “It’s ironic because in the eyes of the U.S., I was a criminal, but I focused on how I could eventually give back to the place that would give me so much.”
We all have a story and a reason why we are here.
Feakins says that on a daily basis, she sees discrimination against immigrants who are only trying to establish safe, productive lives in this country. She works with men and women who are afraid of being separated from their children and men who were professionals in their home countries but who now can barely secure minimum wage jobs. “The system is incredibly broken, but in order to change, we need to start looking at reform from a humanitarian standpoint,” she says. “In a very small way, I am a voice for these people. I want these immigrants to have what I didn’t have when I first came to this country.”
Feakins and her husband now have plans to start The Feakins Foundation, a non-profit that will provide scholarships for undocumented immigrants. Stemming from her idea that education is power, she also believes that it shouldn’t be a luxury. “The only way immigrants can break through the stereotypes is with education,” she says. “We are not just a number. We are human beings. And we all have a story and a reason why we are here.”