The Doubleday 1 dorm-story of the 2007 yearbook, written as a poem, attests to his ability: “Now Viral Orza/ he thinks he can wrestle well,/ But is mistaken/ Marco Saavedra/ A very good wrestler/ Better than Viral.” In addition, Mr. Saavedra was a talented artist, featured in the 2007 yearbook for an oil painting of a moment from a basketball game, as well as in the 2006 yearbook for a watercolor and pastel piece titled “Disappointment” that he created in AP Studio Art.
Describing Mr. Saavedra as a Deerfield student more broadly, English teacher Dr. Kimberly Wright added, “Marco was on the quiet side, but he was great to talk to one-on-one. In those conversations, his humor and personality showed through. Overall, Marco was just a genuinely kind and caring person that everyone liked, so it’s not surprising to me that he has become a brave advocate and public voice for undocumented immigrants, even at the risk of his own safety, to try to enact change.”
Mr. Saavedra decided to become an activist for Mexican immigrant rights in 2011. After graduating from Kenyon College, Marco founded the Immigrant Youth Alliance. His decision initially upset his parents who had hoped he would take a more traditional professional route.
Explaining his motivation for becoming an activist, Mr. Saavedra said in a New York Times interview, “What’s the point of education if we’re not combating daily injustice? Education becomes meaningless if you become desensitized to what a community goes through.”
In 2012, Mr. Saavedra turned himself in to immigration authorities to investigate alleged human rights violations at immigrant detention center Broward Transitional Center. He purposely got himself arrested so that he could get inside Broward and use his public platform to publicize the conditions from within. His act was documented in a film called “The Infiltrators,” which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2019. Mr. Saavedra spent twenty three days at the detention center before he was released.
In 2013, the immigration bill known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act failed in Congress for the third time since 2001. In response, Mr. Saavedra and eight other undocumented immigrants, who had grown up in the United States, self-deported to Mexico in an act of civil disobedience. These nine activists called themselves the “DREAM9.”
After arriving in Mexico, they put on their college graduation gowns and walked to the United States border, surrounded by journalists and photographers, to plead for political asylum. Through this act, Mr. Saavedra and his fellow activists hoped to revive public awareness towards immigration. Their act was also a protest towards the Obama administration’s separation of immigrant families.
Mr. Saavedra took a significant personal risk in this maneuver. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has released its own statistics on asylum cases, which revealed that 22,405 refugees were granted asylum in the United States in 2018. Due to his public role as an activist, Mr. Saavedra claims his life could be at risk if his plea fails. His attorney, Bryan Johnson, stated publicly, “If Marco is sent back to Mexico he will be persecuted…and possibly killed because of his political opinions… Defending immigrants is a dangerous thing in Mexico.”
Since 2013, Mr. Saavedra has been living in the South Bronx, while he waits for the decision on his asylum case. His final hearing took place on November 7, 2019, and, at that time, the judge ruled that final written arguments must be submitted on January 17, 2020. Afterwards, it will take a few weeks to make a final verdict. There is precedent for the DOJ granting asylum in cases similar to Mr. Saavedra’s. Lulu Martinez, another one of the DREAM9 who accompanied Mr. Saavedra to Mexico received asylum in 2019. If Saavedra is denied asylum, he will still have a chance to appeal the decision to the first circuit court.
Mr. Saavedra’s story is one of hard work and self-sacrifice. He created the opportunities for himself to attend Deerfield and later Kenyon through his hard work. His educational background set him up for a promising future in a financially secure professional career, but his sense of justice moved him to focus on helping other immigrants through activism. Mr. Saavedra is not a citizen of the United States, but has displayed upstanding citizenship.
His story shows the wide impact of immigration policy. As Dr. Wright said, “A lot of times, we’re in our busy lives, and we think [undocumented immigrants] are other people. No. It’s one of Deerfield’s own. This is one of our people.”