COVID Diaries Colorado: For DACA recipient, pandemic brings uncertainty on top of uncertainty

Denver resident and DACA recipient Marissa Molina works from home on a day that included phone calls on how to get COVID-19 information out to immigrants and refugees and how to help Metropolitan State University immigrant students who are now struggling. (Photo by Brad Goodall)
Denver resident and DACA recipient Marissa Molina works from home on a day that included phone calls on how to get COVID-19 information out to immigrants and refugees and how to help Metropolitan State University immigrant students who are now struggling. (Photo by Brad Goodall)

Marissa Molina awakened at 7:42 a.m. on the 41st day sequestered at home as she does many mornings now — panicked. It is the isolation. Her construction-worker dad’s furlough. Her house-cleaner mom with no houses to clean. It is the immigrant workers considered “essential” until they are not and no government check is coming to buy them time. It is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether she and immigrants like her, children when they arrived here, will remain protected from deportation. 

The panic ebbed quickly. It was the day after her 28th birthday. Molina and her boyfriend celebrated in their Denver apartment in keeping with the times: no-contact flower and cupcake deliveries and a Facetime Happy Birthday serenade in English and Spanish. Her dad played guitar.

Gratitude propelled her from bed. She had a busy day ahead and the hours that followed were filled by Zoom calls, most of them shot through with worry. In the Roaring Fork Valley, advocates told her, some immigrants were having trouble getting access to unemployment benefits to which they were entitled. Language barriers. Tech barriers. Late afternoon brought a check-in call with Metropolitan State University staffers working with immigrant students. Molina sits on the university’s board of trustees, the first Dreamer to do so. Students are anxious and some have parents now out of work and some have to share a computer with the whole family, making it hard to keep up with their classes. 

The midday call ramped up her anxiety. Molina is the Colorado immigration director for FWD.us, a national bi-partisan advocacy group. It’s now preparing its response to the impending Supreme Court decision on the fate of the DACA program shielding her and 650,000 others from deportation and giving them permission to work in this country. 

“I feel a deep sense of pressure to be a helper right now,” she said. “I’m talking to DACA recipients who have lost their jobs in restaurants and don’t know if they will have money for rent.  I’m talking to undocumented parents who have lost jobs and don’t know how they will put food on the table, don’t know how to manage online learning for their kids, don’t know what they will do next. I feel a big sense of pressure to say, ‘How do I help?’”

And with that desire to help, she said, comes a feeling of helplessness. And from that helplessness comes anger. 

“Because we should be in a place where our kids aren’t wondering if they will be able to eat,” she said. “Our teachers should be worried that kids haven’t signed into class for three days straight. We should be better. I look at undocumented families who are struggling and I think, ‘If you visited a restaurant, there is an immigrant hand there. If you enjoy the privileges of going to a mountain resort, there is an immigrant hand somewhere in the weekend. If you live in a house, it was likely built by an immigrant hand.’ So, how can we, in this moment, look away and pretend their needs don’t matter?”

Molina is one of Colorado’s most high-profile DACA recipients, a woman with many firsts to her name, a woman who sees herself as a “helper,” and always has. She does not typically allow herself to succumb to anger and she has, she said, been battling with her feelings.

“I have been telling myself it is OK to pause and feel despair and it is OK to feel anger when you look out at the world and see the inequity,” she said. “If I am angry it is because I believe in a world that is more just, in which there is more dignity.”

After she got off the call with FWD.us and before she talked to the Metro State team, Molina posted a video on Twitter. It was a message to Americans now struggling with uncertainty and fearful about their future well-being. On this subject, she can offer counsel. She is used to living, after all, as immigrants without citizenship live: Knowing tomorrow your job could disappear. Knowing tomorrow your mother or father or brother or sister or spouse could disappear. Knowing your future could disappear tomorrow. 

“Dear American citizens,” she began. “I know that feeling of anxiety, and even of anger, knowing that no matter what you do, ultimately you don’t get to control what happens to you. I know that feeling of fear when you think about the future. But what these years have also taught me is that it is so important to be grateful for those moments of joy and levity. [They have] taught me that we have to really take in the moment today, because that is the only day guaranteed to us. And [they have] also taught me to look at tomorrow with courage, because even though I may not know what tomorrow holds, I know I am strong enough to get through it.”

You can watch the full set of Marissa Molina’s COVID Diaries from April 16, 2020 here.  This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. This news organization joined this historic collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public. Find all the Colorado COVID diaries from our partner newsrooms here

 

Tina was a city columnist for the late great Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. She left Denver for Richmond, Virginia in 2012 and learned the joys of news editing at the city’s alternative newspaper, Style Weekly, and its premiere city mag, Richmond Magazine. She was also a staff writer for the Washington Post and its Storyline public policy/narrative journalism project. She has national recognition for her reporting on immigration, education and urban poverty. Tina lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids. She’s a native New Mexican and prefers red over green.

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