Last Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance an immigration reform bill that would place 11 million undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship. A path Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa forged for himself nearly 30 years ago.

Globally renowned neurosurgeon and researcher Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, also known as Dr. Q, spoke about immigration reform in the United States and his personal journey to citizenship during Wednesday’s plenary session at NAFSA’s 2013 Annual Conference in St. Louis.

“The American dream is the most beautiful thing I can think of,” he said. “It allows us to be who we are.”

Dr. Q is the American dream realized. Quiñones-Hinojosa started his life in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. After facing years of manual labor and hardship in the industrial workplaces of California, he was granted amnesty, which allowed him to register for classes at a local community college. He recalls the support given by his teachers and spoke about the value of community colleges to students, like himself, with humble beginnings.

If not for immigration reforms, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa may have never attended the University of California-Berkeley, and later Harvard Medical School, to become Dr. Q, in charge of 300 surgeries a year and pursuing a cure for brain cancer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. His story is a living example of why the United States needs immigration reform now that meets the needs of higher education and provides a path to legal residency and citizenship.

While studying at UC-Berkeley, Dr. Q recalls a conversation he had with a fellow student who said that he was “too incredibly smart to be a Mexican.”

When sharing how he overcame the stereotypes that went along with being a migrant worker, he noted, “Sometimes a single dream can be more powerful than a thousand realities—and that will give you the strength not to give up.”

Dr. Q puts a human face to the debate on immigration. "We're training the best and the brightest, and then closing the door to the American dream,” he cautioned. He praised NAFSA's Speak Out campaign ( and commended international educators for their continued support of international students.