December 20 is an important anniversary for Marissa Molina. On that date in 2001, when she was just nine years old, Molina was brought to Colorado by her parents from her native Mexico.
Almost nineteen years later, Molina, who grew up in Glenwood Springs, is an American success story. In 2014, after being accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, she graduated summa cum laude from Fort Lewis College in Durango with a political science and economic degree. That same year, she became a corps member for Teach for America, and she made such an impression teaching Spanish for native speakers at DSST Green Valley Ranch High School that she was one of nine DACA educators honored as a so-called "Champion of Change" by President Barack Obama's administration in 2015. And last year, she was appointed to Metro State University of Denver's board of trustees by Governor Jared Polis, becoming the first DACA recipient to serve on a state board.
"It's been a really meaningful experience to contribute to that world of education — particularly at MSU Denver, which has stood up for Dreamers for a long time," Molina says.
December 4 was another big day for Molina. That's when a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security to restore DACA, which has been under threat since President Donald Trump's election in 2016. As a result, Molina's presence in the country she considers her home would seem to be secure for the first time in years — but matters are more complicated than that. For one thing, the DACA situation isn't nearly as settled as it might seem; there's another hearing in the Texas lawsuit over the Obama-era action on December 22. And even if that session goes well, the status of Molina and her fellow Dreamers remains temporary rather than permanent.
The battle for meaningful immigration reform still isn't over — and Molina is at the forefront of the fight, as the Colorado state immigration manager for FWD.us [pronounced Forward], which describes itself as "a bipartisan political organization that believes America's families, communities and economy thrive when more individuals are able to achieve their full potential."
"The big thing we're thinking about in this work is the pathway to recovery in our country after COVID-19," Molina says. "Right now, that recovery is being built by millions of essential, front-line workers, many of whom are trapped without legal status. A true recovery is one that really rebuilds America to make it more inclusive. It's important that we restore opportunity and dignity for all people who live in the United States and contribute to the economy and the community and make sure there's a pathway to citizenship for these folks."
With these goals in mind, Molina says, "FWD is really focused on how we build bipartisan solutions to our broken immigration system. We're ready to work with anybody in the U.S. Congress on this issue. And whether we have a Democrat-controlled Senate" — a prospect that will be determined by two runoff votes in Georgia on January 5 — "or if the Congress continues to be split, our focus is the same: How do we engage folks across the aisle to not just reject the rhetoric around immigration by Donald Trump, but also to pass real reforms that protect and uplift people."
In his second debate with Trump, President-elect Joe Biden "said he was ready to bring Congress a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the first 100 days after he takes office," Molina points out. "But what's really critical in this moment is that this be a policy priority from day one. The dignity of people in our immigrant community, who are the backbone of so much of the economy throughout the U.S., is at stake, and there's a real opportunity to move policy forward."
Molina knows the dynamics of the nation's capitol quite well. After the rescission of DACA in 2017, she and fellow Westword profile subject Marco Dorado twice traveled to Washington, D.C., "to meet with members of Congress," she recalls. "We had folks like Senator [Michael] Bennet and Senator [Cory] Gardner, who were supportive of our efforts and ready to bring to President Trump's desk a real solution — but those solutions were rejected by the President and Mitch McConnell."
As of January 20, Trump will no longer occupy the Oval Office, but McConnell isn't going anywhere — and depending on the outcome of those U.S. Senate races in Georgia, he could still be an obstacle to immigration reform. But Molina says she's hopeful that the results of the presidential election mean "the American public is ready to build solutions together. We need to learn how to solve big issues to move our country and our community forward."
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