NAUGATUCK — Ruan Marinho’s lack of citizenship and legal immigration papers cost him his job last year.
He was 22 and working for AT&T when he forgot to renew his paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy, making him ineligible to work.
Marinho is what’s called a “dreamer” in political colloquialism, an individual brought here by his immigrant parents as a young child and raised without citizenship.
Former President Barack Obama created the DACA policy by executive order in 2012. It protects people like Marinho from deportation granting a two-year reprieve that can be extended and by issuing a work permit and a Social Security number.
Marinho has renewed his DACA eligibility and runs his own social media company, but the status he grew up with coming from Brazil with his parents in 1998, who overstayed tourist visas, looms over him.
President Donald Trump canceled DACA earlier this year with a six-month delay to give Congress time to decide the program’s fate.
Congress extended the realistic deadline to pass a legislative solution to Dec. 22 by passing a stopgap spending bill to fund the government for the next two weeks.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters last week that lawmakers “will not leave here” without approval of language helping those immigrants.
As one of 800,000 DACA recipients nationally, including 12,790 in Connecticut, Marinho could be deported if DACA ends, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Rallies were held in the nation’s capital and across the country last week by supporters who hoped to see the program passed into law.
“We’re all worried,” Marinho said. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Marinho said his parents brought him and his sister to the country on a travel visa from Brazil when he was 4. His father works in construction and his mother cleans houses. They are legal permanent residents, but not citizens.
Marinho’s sister, Rafaela, sponsored their parents’ residency after she was married and became a citizen. Permanent residents can become naturalized citizens after three to five years. Marinho said he didn’t apply for residency at the time because of a waiting period he would have faced that could have included returning to Brazil while the application is processed, something that can take years.
If DACA ends Marinho will be an illegal immigrant, though the rest of his family is legal. Siblings sponsored for permanent residency are placed in a lower preference category than parents because immigration law does not recognize siblings as immediate family.
Each year the government allows for 65,000 visas in that category, for which last year 4.2 million applications were filed, according to the Department of State.
“The United States has a very complicated immigration system,” said Jon Bauer, law professor at the University of Connecticut. “Even within one family there are fairly arbitrary distinctions about who is able to get status and who isn’t.”
Five years ago, Marinho faced bleak prospects as his high school graduation loomed forebodingly over him. Legally an adult with no immigration status at age 18, he would not have been eligible to work in the country. He couldn’t get a driver’s license or enroll in college because he didn’t have a Social Security number.
“Literally it was crazy, the day I graduated Barack Obama announced DACA,” he said. “And when I heard that I was like, this is the opportunity for me to do something with my life and all the uncertainty just went away.”
That lasted through October 2016 when Marinho said he failed to renew his DACA status on time — a process that must be repeated every two years by filing paperwork and paying a $495 fee.
After losing his job Marinho put $7,000 worth of online-marketing lessons on his credit cards. His parents and girlfriend thought he was crazy, but Marinho was determined.
“The hustle’s always been in me because, my parents came to the United States, they knew no English and they immediately came here and just started looking for work,” he said.
Seated on a leather living room couch in his parents’ Brook Street condo earlier this month Marinho typed on his MacBook Pro, white headphones in his ears and a tripod in front of him.
His keystrokes promote local businesses through his company DeveloMark. He runs targeted online ad and social media campaigns, website design and raising clients’ visibility on Google and YouTube.
In the past year Marinho has turned DeveloMark in to an $11,000-per-month business.
“Some days I’ll wake up and look at my bank account and say where did that come from?,” he said.
Bauer said DACA-recipients whose protections expired before March 5 of next year had until Oct. 5 to renew their applications, but that most recipients had no way of renewing their status.
“Starting in March large numbers of people will be losing DACA every day,” said Bauer.
Although Congress technically has until then to pass a legislative solution that would protect DACA-recipients, Bauer said that “as a practical matter the best chance of doing that is in the next few weeks” because Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass spending legislation that would avoid a government shutdown, have said their cooperation is dependent on passing a law extending DACA.
“People who are losing DACA protections are well advised to speak to an immigration lawyer,” Bauer said.