Carlos Sotelo was born in Mexico and brought to Houston undocumented as a baby. His parents worked low-income jobs and, after his father passed away suddenly when Sotelo was nine, his mother raised him alone in near-poverty. But Sotelo persevered. He worked hard in school, became a DACA recipient in 2012, and eventually graduated from Princeton University. Today, he’s a college counselor in Houston’s public schools. This year Sotelo’s school, Sharpstown High, helped more undocumented students secure college financing than any other school in the city.
“Seeing me, as an open and visible undocumented professional, at their school meant more students were able to share their status and get the help they needed,” Sotelo says. “Seeing them graduate this year was one of the most rewarding moments of my year.”
Sotelo’s personal story is remarkable, but as an immigrant, his ability to succeed isn’t unusual in Houston. According to New American Economy’s new Cities Index report, which ranks the most welcoming cities for immigrants across the United States, Houston scored especially highly in Civic Engagement, a metric that includes the number of immigrants working in public-sector jobs. “I have many immigrant colleagues and peers,” Sotelo says. “We’re serving the students who look like us, so they can see themselves reach their dreams, too.”
Sotelo says he’s certainly felt welcome in Houston, and that the city’s leaders have been very supportive of the immigrant community. “They definitely recognize the value we bring,” he says. “I think it’s hard to live in Houston and underestimate the contributions that immigrants are making in this city.”
I think it’s hard to live in Houston and underestimate the contributions that immigrants are making in this city.”
Sotelo himself is an active community leader, working as a fellow with the Dream Lead Institute, a group that aims to equip young professional Dreamers with the leadership skills needed to make a positive contribution in their communities. He also volunteers with the economic opportunity team at BakerRipley’s Entrepreneurship Academy, helping Houston entrepreneurs to develop new strategic plans and grow their businesses.
Sotelo’s DACA status will allow him to live and work legally in the United States until at least 2020, so he’s more committed than ever to making a positive contribution to the city he considers his home. “The city itself, and the people who serve it — it’s a very welcoming community,” he says.
Sotelo has been especially moved by the way that Houstonians have rallied together in times of crisis. That was especially apparent in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when many DACA recipients like Sotelo joined relief efforts, and one young Dreamer lost his life while manning a rescue boat on the city’s flooded streets. “We all came together as a city to help one another out,” Sotelo says. “No matter what our background was, we were all willing to step up and help.”