Last night, during his first prime-time address before members of Congress, President Donald Trump touted his agenda, including a series of controversial immigration policies. Afterward, Astrid Silver, an undocumented immigrant, offered a Spanish-language rebuttal on behalf of the Democratic Party, and her comments about the millions "who are an integral part of this country and who constitute the values and the promise of the United States" are perfectly symbolized by Denver's Marco Dorado. After all, his entire life is a refutation of the idea that every undocumented immigrant should immediately be shipped back to his or her native country.
Dorado, who's in his early twenties, was born in Mexico, but because he came to the United States with his family at age three, his only childhood memories are of America in general and Colorado in particular. Despite his undocumented status, he went on to become the first member of his family to graduate from high school (he attended Thornton High), and at the University of Colorado Boulder, he served a term as co-student-body president under CU's tri-executive system while earning a degree in finance. Today, he's program coordinator for the Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver.
In addition, Dorado is politically active even though he doesn't have the right to vote because of his undocumented status. He campaigned energetically for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he's currently advocating on behalf of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that helped put him on the path toward achieving his American dream. Although candidate Trump promised to eliminate DACA during his campaign, his executive orders on immigration retained the program, but in a way that concerns Dorado and many others in his position. That's why he's energetically promoting legislation that would make DACA permanent by, for example, starring in a recent video for Generation Latino (see it below) and speaking at events such as a Colorado Business Roundtable gathering last week attended by leaders from the business community and staffers employed by three prominent Colorado members of Congress: Senator Cory Gardner and representatives Scott Tipton and Ed Perlmutter.
Because my twin daughters worked with Dorado in student government at CU Boulder, I've known him for several years, and I can't think of anyone, no matter their opinions about immigration, who wouldn't consider him to be the type of person who makes America better simply by his presence. During Trump's speech, the president's references to "merit-based" immigration reform suggest that he might be persuaded that someone like Dorado is worth keeping around as well — although the proposal's bias against "lower-skilled" workers would likely have blocked entry by his parents, who brought him here in the first place.
Below is Dorado's story, told in his own words, as culled from two extended interviews with Westword. Afterward, decide for yourself whether you'd like to see him expelled from this country — or if you think instead that politicians should do everything in their power to make sure he can stay permanently.
"I was born in Jerez, Zacatecas, which is basically halfway between the U.S. border and Mexico City. The city itself is fairly small, and I was born there because my family comes from the farmland around it. Basically, it's a very rural, very agriculture-heavy community. My mom would help my grandparents in either their little family owned convenience store or she'd work in the fields, and my dad would work in the fields.
"My family decided to come to the United States in 1995, when I was three. I really have never asked my parents why they came. It's always been this sort of underlying assumption that we came for economic opportunity, to have a better shot at a good life.
"My dad now works in construction, and my mom works in hospitality. I have an older brother who was also born in Mexico; he's only a year and three months older than I am. And I have a younger brother and a younger sister who were both born in the U.S.
"I don't have many memories from when I was a kid before I came to the U.S., because I was three. The only recollections I have of my childhood are being in the United States. I actually went to preschool in the U.S., which is where I picked up English. I wasn't in any ESL [English as a Second Language] classes, because the school I went to, they just kind of dropped you into a class in English. You went along and really just kind of learned it.
"Denver was the first stop we made, because we had an aunt who lived in Colorado. We lived in Globeville until about 2000. In that neighborhood, there were so many people there from the Latino community, and because I was so young, I didn't really understand the magnitude or the implications of being undocumented. I didn't even understand that I was in that situation — although, growing up, it was always in the back of our minds in the community.
"People would make comments like, 'You're a mojado,' and if you translate that literally, it means 'wetback.' We kind of figured out that some people had crossed the river to get here, or whatever that looked like. And we knew there was something that made us different. But I never really knew that the fundamental difference was that I didn't have a Social Security number until we moved to Thornton and I started high school.
"I wanted to do the International Baccalaureate program, and I took the paperwork home for my mom to fill out so I could apply. And she said, 'They're asking for a Social Security number. You're not going to be able to do this program, because you don't have one.'
"I went back to school, and my counselor said, 'You'll be fine. You can go ahead and do the program.' But in high school, all of these programs were supposed to prepare you for college — and because they're publicly funded, they require a Social Security number. So I couldn't apply for them. And put on top of that the fact that when everybody turned fifteen or sixteen, they would get jobs at Water World. But I couldn't do that. Because I didn't have a Social Security number, I couldn't work. You needed a Social Security number to get a driver's license, too. And the icing on the cake was, I needed a Social Security number to go to college and get scholarships. So I couldn't do that, either.
"I had to decide if I wanted to go on to the IB diploma program, to actually test on the subjects we were studying. It's kind of like an AP test. And I vividly remember thinking there was no reason for me to be in that program. I thought, why should I go through all this headache when in the end I won't even be able to go to college?
"But thankfully, I was walked off that ledge. I decided to stay in the program, and I graduated from high school in 2010 as the IB student union president and the recipient of the IB diploma, which not everybody receives. And because neither my older brother nor my younger brother were able to graduate from high school, not only am I the first person in my family to graduate from college, but I'm also the first person in my family to graduate from high school.
"Regardless of any of this, I still couldn't go to college, because all the schools in Colorado were going to be out of reach financially. I couldn't get a loan, I couldn't get financial aid, and I couldn't get in-state tuition. So I spent my freshman year of college at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, because in New Mexico, they offered financial aid to students no matter their status. I was able to receive financial aid and scholarships, which helped me pay for my freshman year.
"During that year, I started getting involved in politics, and I really started taking ownership of my identity as an undocumented American. I kind of lost the fear and the shame associated with it. I vividly remember that before then, none of my white friends knew I was undocumented. Not once in high school did I tell someone who wasn't from my immediate community that I was undocumented. I was very, very intentional about only telling people who either were Mexican or who had family members who were undocumented, or people who were undocumented themselves. But when I went to college, that kind of changed. I started finding out about other undocumented individuals who were harnessing their stories as a point of pride and empowerment for others, and I started doing that, too.
"After my freshman year, I came back to Denver and interned for a nonprofit called the Colorado Latino Forum. It was an unpaid internship, obviously, because I couldn't get paid without a Social Security number. But while I was there, I was connected to a family that caught wind of my story and said, 'You know what? We believe in you, and we believe in the fact that you should be able to go to college if you have the mental capacity to do it. If you're capable and you're knowledgeable, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to do it.' So they decided to pay for me to go to CU at the out-of-state rate.
"I started at CU in the spring of my sophomore year; I took the fall off while I was getting everything figured out. And that spring, I wasn't too politically engaged. At that point in time, I was an undocumented kid from an undocumented, first-generation family at this massive institution trying to get a finance degree. I was trying to become acclimated, trying to figure out how to navigate the system that is CU. So I didn't do much more politically than keep tabs on the state legislature and how the in-state tuition bill, the Colorado ASSET bill, was doing. It had been introduced in the state legislature every year for ten years before it passed. We'd have a victory here or a victory there, but then it would end up getting killed in a committee, or a couple of senators we thought were going to vote our way didn't, and it would die in the Senate. That's the only thing I really followed, but because of my internship at the Colorado Latino Forum, some seeds had been planted, and I was able to use my knowledge, my expertise and my experience to get politically engaged.
"During my junior year of college, I was hired to work on the tri-executives' staff. I was hired in a volunteer capacity, because I couldn't get paid. But then Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced in the summer of 2012, between my sophomore year and my junior year, and that tremendously changed my trajectory and the opportunities I had available to me. I applied for DACA in November of 2012, and I was approved at the end of January 2013. And in March, when I turned 21, I was able to get my driver's license. I hadn't been able to get one before, because I lacked a Social Security number. But once I got DACA and my employment authorization card came through, I was able to go to the Social Security Administration and request my Social Security card, and after that, I got my driver's license. All these things everyone else had been able to do years before, I was finally able to do, too.
"By then, on top of working in student government, I had been selected to be an intern at the Colorado State Capitol through a fellowship program of another nonprofit organization, the Colorado Latino Advocacy and Research Organization. And that fellowship was paid. I remember the first paycheck I got. I remember telling my boss that I wanted my paycheck mailed to me, because I'd never gotten a paycheck before.
"Had I not received DACA, I wouldn't have had the ability to work at the Capitol. But because of it, I had the opportunity to work that legislative session. And then in April, I ran for tri-executive at CU and won — and that summer, I was a summer intern for Morgan Stanley.
"That fall, as a tri-executive at CU, I had access to the university administration, but I was still struggling to get in-state tuition and still struggling with the implications of getting financial aid. I could only imagine what an undocumented freshman student was experiencing, because the system wasn't there for them. It wasn't set up yet. Before, there were rules that prohibited working with undocumented students, but suddenly there were rules allowing it. So it was really cool that I had the opportunity to work with the administration to figure out how to help ASSET students across the board at CU to be able to come to the campus and get everything sorted out, then put it behind them and thrive.
"After I graduated and got my degree in finance, I worked at FirstBank for about a year. But in the summer of 2015, I realized it wasn't what I wanted to be doing, at least right then. So I left FirstBank and started my job at the Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver as program coordinator. The organization was started about three and a half years ago with the intention of priming the next generation of executive leaders within the Latino community. Initially, we ran a nine-month fellowship program for mid-level Latino professionals from across all sectors. It was about personal and professional development, to get folks to the next stage of leadership. But since then, we've branched out to becoming a conduit of information and research for the Latino community in the State of Colorado. And we also house the Colorado Latino Hall of Fame. It's really about using all the information and resources we have available as an organization to highlight the contributions of Latinos in Colorado and even across the country. And I'm able to do that because of DACA.
"Basically, DACA allows me the ability to legally work in this country for two years — but I have to renew it every two years. And because I came forward and told the government, 'This is who I am, and this is my story,' it sets an exemption for the government from deporting me for the two years I applied for — or at least it did. So every two years, I submit paperwork, I pay my fee and I get a work permit and my employment authorization card. But it doesn't confer any sort of legal status or any sort of citizenship, which is what bars me from being able to vote in any election.
"I'm still politically active because, at the end of the day, the fact that I can't vote means the only other thing I can leverage is my voice, to help people understand the implication of their vote. And with last year's election, right from the get-go, Donald Trump was saying, 'Mexicans are this and Mexicans are that,' and he was talking about rescinding DACA — taking DACA away. And I don't believe we can go back to that world, the world before we had DACA or ASSET. Because in Colorado, these programs have worked really well. We've been able to see the economic benefits of having a program like DACA in place, because kids who grew up in Colorado and are able to go to college at in-state rates are graduating, and they're going into the workplace here. Much like my story. That's really the reason I was motivated to be so outspoken and active during the campaign — because it just doesn't make sense that we go back.
"The morning after the election, I knew it was going to suck for multiple reasons. If Donald Trump came out the day after he took office and said, 'DACA is done,' I would no longer have the ability to work in this country, and I would be shoved back to the reality I lived as a teenager. So that was hard to think about, and it was hard to think about talking to my mom about the outcome of the election. She knew I was politically active, and she'd always ask, 'What's going to happen?' And I'd say, 'It's going to be fine.' I didn't know what I was going to say to her.
"But then she texted me and said that my brother was going to be a dad again — so the first thing on her mind was actually good news. And when we got around to talking about the election, it was really humbling. She said that this was the reality she'd been living for 21 years, since we'd moved to the U.S., and we were going to find a way around it — find a way to make it work. She said we were going to continue to thrive in this country even in the face of so much hate and so much rhetoric against us, which I thought were such wise and sage words at a time of so much despair. And that has inspired me to keep working at making a difference.
"During the lame-duck session before Donald Trump's administration, [senators] Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, a Republican and a Democrat, proposed the Bridge Act, which would codify DACA into law with the intent of continuing the program and allowing individuals who qualify for it to apply and get work permits — and their deportation would be deferred. It also has the intention of getting Congress to work on comprehensive immigration reform. And on the House side, Mike Coffman and Luis Gutiérrez also proposed a version.
"Now the executive orders are out, and DACA isn't supposed to change. But the directive from the executive order doesn't specifically outline that people from DACA won't be pursued by immigration enforcement officers, and it also doesn't create any sort of guarantee that we'll be fine. Right now, the way it reads, it says the focus will be undocumented immigrants with a criminal background, and many people who are undocumented don't have any sort of criminal record at all. But since DACA doesn't confer any sort of legal status, we're still undocumented immigrants, and that's technically against the law. So by not affirming that DACA individuals aren't being targeted, it means something still could happen to us — and there have been reports of Dreamers who've been arrested across the country.
"Right now, I'm trying to better understand communities that can be critical allies in helping us identify support for DACA and the Bridge Act within the congressional delegation in Colorado — and last week, I had the opportunity to sit in and participate in a conversation put together by FWD.us, an immigration advocacy nonprofit that sees immigration reform as critical for tech and entrepreneurship. They held a roundtable with several different chambers of commerce, several different trade associations, technology associations, restaurant associations, as well as representatives from Ed Perlmutter's office, Scott Tipton's office and Cory Gardner's office. I had the opportunity to share my story — the fact that I've grown up in America my entire life and how, because I'm college-educated, I've been able to start my professional career and contribute back to my community and the economy more generally.
"The consensus of the people there — probably 90 percent of them — was that it's ludicrous to not work on this issue and not to have leadership in Washington that speaks out against the extreme agenda that's unfolding before us, where we're basically saying to anyone who's an immigrant, 'You're not welcome in America.' This community understands the economic imperative of having an immigrant labor force. One woman said, 'We need to stop this narrative of immigrants as criminals and start looking at them as contributors to our economy and our society.' And I was excited and happy to provide the perspective of someone who's an immigrant, but who's also someone who's lived in America for more than twenty years.
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"There's still a ton of uncertainty about what's going to happen, because everything seems to be changing every hour of the day. You hear about folks being arrested and start thinking, 'Maybe it really isn't safe.' And we don't exist in a vacuum. I may have DACA, but I come from a mixed-status family. Some of my siblings have U.S. citizenship, but other members are undocumented, so they don't have the protection, or the supposed protection, that DACA confers on individuals like myself. Even though we're not being targeted, our families, our friends, our co-workers and people in the community are still being prosecuted by this administration under what's outlined in the executive order.
"That's why we need to build coalitions and continue to put pressure on our officials to make sure they're standing by our values as Americans, our values as Coloradans and our values as human beings."
Here's the Generation Latino video starring Marco Dorado.