Juliet Kwon Choi, 48
Chief of Staff, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
How did you get here?
Fortunately and fortuitously, my boss, USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez extended me the invitation and special honor to join and follow him to the Department of Homeland Security, from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the US Department of HHS where I originally joined him as his Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor back in 2011. To receive a second appointment with the Obama Administration and serve at the world’s largest immigration agency that grants humanitarian relief, welcomes engineers, entrepreneurs and educators, and helps immigrants on their journey to becoming a U.S. citizen was such an overwhelmingly phenomenal opportunity, of course, I didn’t hesitate to accept.
In reflecting upon my career, I can genuinely admit I’ve always had a passion for wanting to give back to my community and serving the public. I was 26 when I received my first appointment – our local city council appointed me to our at-risk youth commission and I gained first-hand experience how speaking up for others and advocating for system reform truly can make a difference for children, families, and communities. That experience really cemented the notion that I wanted to serve the public in some fashion, and over the years, I’m really very grateful I’ve had the chance to be part of some fabulous mission oriented organizations like the American Red Cross, Asian American Justice Center, and Mental Health America.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
Without a doubt, my parents have been the greatest influence on my career. As a young girl, they really instilled in me a sense of confidence and purpose, that anything is possible and achievable. (I think some people call it girl power.) Despite the language and cultural barriers they navigated as new immigrants to the United States in the 1960s, my parents always encouraged my sense of curiosity, even affirmed my fleeting notion of wanting to be a firefighter as a six-year old, and told me to dream big. (My mother secretly hoped I would become an ambassador someday.) They also cultivated a special expectation that I would speak up when necessary, and, more importantly, I would speak up for others who might not otherwise have a voice when circumstances warranted it.
Stated another way, I truly am the beneficiary of my parents’ spirit of optimism in the American Dream. And as that beneficiary, I do believe I have a distinct duty and privilege to pay that forward, help others and give back through public service.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
Hands down, my greatest accomplishment (and most rewarding) is being able to share that remarkable day with a group of New Americans, administer the Oath of Allegiance, and be the first person to congratulate and welcome these very special individuals as my new fellow Americans. I’ve done this on a handful occasions across the country, and as far away as Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. Whether it’s congratulating a centurion or sincerely thanking our military members, and their spouses, for defending our country even before they’ve become U.S. citizens, there are no adequate words to fully express the personal and professional gratification in being able to literally help these extraordinary immigrants conclude their immigrant journey and embrace them as our fellow New Americans.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama Administration in 10 words?
A uniquely, humbling privilege to serve the American public, alongside extraordinary public servants.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
When I’m not working, well, I’m probably still working but definitely contemplating my bucket list of countries to visit and explore. Thanks to a terrific mentor, I think I’m successfully mitigating against my workaholic tendencies by taking a couple weeks off every six months or so and exploring a new country. Last year was Turkey and Thailand, and this year, I’m hoping to get to Peru. Exploring a new culture invites me to expand my world view (and of course get away from the “Beltway bubble”), keeps things in perspective, and absolutely nurtures the soul.