In early 2017, shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, we spoke with Marco Dorado, who was at the time arguably Colorado's best-known recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. His compelling life story and remarkable record of achievement offered a strong argument against the mass deportation of those in his situation.
Yet because of Trump's anti-DACA stance, Dorado found himself in the terrifying position of potentially having his life uprooted and being sent back to Mexico, a country he doesn't recall because he was so young when he left.
What a difference just under four years makes. Trump was defeated by former vice-president Joe Biden in his bid for re-election on November 3, and while Trump has refused to concede, the smart money is on a new president being sworn in on January 20, 2021.
The election results inspired "a sigh of relief," Dorado says. "This really big weight was lifted off the shoulders that's been on so many of us since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president."
Dorado, who's now in his late twenties (disclosure: He's a longtime family friend), was born in Mexico, but because he came to the United States at the age of 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); 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. When Trump took office, he was serving as program coordinator for the Latino Leadership Institute at the University of Denver — but that didn't make him feel safe.
"Before the 2016 election, I was in a situation of controlled limbo — that's the best way I can describe it," Dorado maintains. "The executive order that created DACA gave almost 800,000 people like myself who were undocumented the opportunity to defer deportation for two years and obtain work permits for two-year increments. But the election of Donald Trump created mass chaos in the immigrant community. There was no way that comprehensive immigration reform was going to pass, and during the campaign, Donald Trump said, 'I'm going to do away with DACA.' And he was also being pressured by Republicans in other parts of the country, including the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, who said, 'If you don't nix this program now, I'm going to sue you in federal court.'"
In 2018, Paxton and several colleagues did just that, "and then Trump turned around and said, 'We're going to terminate DACA as it is,'" Dorado continues. "That created a tremendous amount of uncertainty for the almost million people who'd entered into this contract. The federal government had said, 'If you step out of the shadows and tell us you're here, we won't deport you, and you'll be able to live and work legally in this country. And since we have background checks on you, we know where you live.'" With Trump's reversal, that suddenly seemed very ominous.
A series of lawsuits prevented the immediate end of DACA, however, and this past June, the U.S. Supreme Court "said that Trump had unlawfully terminated the program," Dorado notes. But the 5-4 decision certainly didn't seem safe after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the swift pre-election confirmation of Trump-selected Amy Coney Barrett, making the results of the vote all that more important for the extended DACA family.
Biden's victory changes the equation: He's said he'll make DACA permanent on his first day in office.
Dorado hasn't simply been waiting around for such a development. He enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Washington while continuing his activism with organizations such as the Colorado COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. In June he earned a master's degree in public administration with a focus on social policy, and he's currently serving as assistant field director for the nonprofit National Development Council.
"My work revolves around community economic development specifically as it relates to small-business support and the development of affordable housing," he explains. "The work that we're doing is work that needs to be done in order to make America a better place."
This last goal is one Dorado has been working toward his entire life, despite being demonized by so many.
"The Trump administration didn't actually see us as being Americans," he concludes. "I don't know what they saw us as, but I'm not any different than any other working professional in America — and that's the kind of message we need to extend about the DACA community. The pandemic has proven to us that immigrants play a vital role in our economy, whether they're essential workers or front-line workers or workers who pick the crops we eat regardless of whether COVID-19 is going around. So now we really want to look at how we pick up all these pieces and rebuild, moving forward in a way that acknowledges our contributions and our humanity — and recognizes that the immigrant community will be critical to the way we heal as a country."
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