Two things are moving Colorado's nearly 15,000 DACA recipients past the veil of uncertainty they've lived under for the past few years. First, the order from a federal judge to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after the Trump administration's attempt to shelve it. And second, the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden in January.
Biden has pledged to sign an executive order to reinstate DACA when he takes office.
It's a relief for self-described "little nature nerd" Efrain Leal Escalera, a budding entomologist and artist. The Aurora DACA recipient has known he was undocumented for as long as he can remember. Born in Durango, Mexico, his parents brought him stateside when he was six years old.
“Growing up, nobody liked the bugs,” said Escalera, who sees his status symbolically intertwined with his passion for insects. “And I just took a special refuge with them.”
He’s studied and worked a bit in his field, but without citizenship, he’s not eligible for federal scholarships or grants from the National Science Foundation. His current status only allows him access to a temporary Social Security number.
He saw himself falling behind and struggled with depression. Eventually, he morphed his passion for the natural world into photography and collage work.
He uses twigs and leaves and body parts of mostly non-native insects to create symmetrical patterns like mandalas. He wants his art to communicate that migration is a natural process and perhaps even a beautiful one.
“I get inspiration from the monarchs, the whales, dragonflies, birds,” Escalera said. “Because they're able to move around freely and be a part of the bigger picture just as me. Just as I’m part of the bigger picture.”
When people see his art, they ask him questions — not just about the insects — but also about immigration.
“Through bugs and nature, I've become a resource for my community,” Escalera said.
He and his peers have been anxious about DACA but the court decision to restore it gave him renewed hope.
Now he has cautiously optimistic plans for the near future. He wants to help other immigrants apply for the program. He also wants to study and photograph bugs around the world. But first, he plans to visit family in Mexico.
“I haven't seen my grandpa in 20 years now and this COVID thing has been really tough on them,” he said.
In the meantime, the legal challenges to DACA continue. Proponents have asked a U.S. District Court Judge to delay issuing a ruling on a lawsuit in Texas until Biden takes office. Advocates, for their part, also intend to keep up the pressure on the incoming administration for immigration reforms.