On the surface, Bill De La Rosa ’16 seems like a typical Bowdoin student: he is active with the McKeen Center for the Common Good, conducts research in the sociology department, and usually stays up late finishing his work. But De La Rosa’s path to Bowdoin and his time at the College have been anything but ordinary. 

In 2009, when De La Rosa was a sophomore in high school, his mother went to Mexico to obtain a green card. However, rather than receiving the necessary paperwork to remain in the United States, she was barred from the country for ten years because, years previously, she had overstayed a visa and crossed the border illegally. She cannot return to the U.S. until 2019.

“There’s no waiver, no appeal process,” De La Rosa recalled. He, his father and his three siblings are all American citizens, but this makes no difference in the world of immigration law, where intentions do not matter and exceptions do not exist. 

The separation from their mother placed both emotional and financial stress on the family. De La Rosa’s elderly father was too old to work. His older brother, Jim, joined the Marine Corps to supplement the family’s income, leaving Bill to care for his two younger siblings. 

“I [was] taking care of my siblings, worrying about their school, their food, the house, bills and also my own schoolwork,” said De La Rosa. “I somehow managed to do all these things.”

If the pressures of supporting his family meant less time for sleep or academics, it didn’t show in the classroom. He was the valedictorian at his high school in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite his academic achievements, the college application process presented another challenge. 

“Even applying to college was a stretch for me, because both my parents didn’t even graduate high school,” he said. 

Although he considered other schools, De La Rosa was drawn to Bowdoin’s Government and Legal Studies program as well as the liberal arts focus and commitment to the Common Good.
When he was admitted early decision, he turned to his community back home to ensure his family would be alright without his day-to-day leadership. 

“It [was] a matter of really solidifying the support that I would need, so that…my family could be okay,” he said. 

The transition to Bowdoin was not easy. Even with all that the College has to offer, it does not distract De La Rosa from his family’s situation, and the 2,500 miles between Brunswick and Tucson do not lessen his care for them.

“I’m constantly worrying about what’s going on back home” said De La Rosa. “I’m spacing out and I can’t really focus because I’m like ‘How’s my dad? How [are] my siblings?’… It’s just a constant tug of war that I have to internally struggle with. Be here, but also be there. Two places at the same time.”

Although he is far from home, De La Rosa feels that he has found a strong support system at Bowdoin. “The counseling center is a great resource,” said De La Rosa. “I also have a lot of friends that I talk to, a lot of faculty members, a lot of staff members that are good friends that I just go to and I speak to them about these issues.” 

Nonetheless, De La Rosa has excelled at Bowdoin. He received a Truman Scholarship, an honor which earned him $30,000 toward graduate school as well as a one-year internship with a government agency. 

De La Rosa’s commitment to issues of immigration, as well as his passion and work ethic, are visible in his work throughout college, both in and out of the classroom. 

A sociology and Latin American studies double major with a government minor, he has worked with humanitarian groups during the summer to provide aid to migrants journeying from Mexico to the United States. 

His service work often relates back to his academic interests. His honors project examines the human effects of immigration policy based on interviews he has conducted with migrants. 
“Border policy has funneled people through hazardous portions of the border, specifically through the Sonoran desert, so I’m looking at that experience and how people live through that,” he explained.

De La Rosa co-leads the student chapter of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which provides legal services to low-income Maine residents. He has also led an alternative winter break trip to Portland, where students worked with the Somali refugee population.  

Next spring, he will lead another trip, this time to his home state of Arizona to expose Bowdoin students to immigration issues at the border. 

The current European refugee crisis is one area that sparks his interest. Studying different migration scenarios might help him work in immigration advocacy or policy making in the future. 

De La Rosa is also considering a career in politics someday. And despite his global mindset, it is a possibility that could take him back home. 

“If I’d run for office, I’d probably do it in Arizona.”