Faces of Dreamers: Marco Ortiz Sanchez, University of California, Irvine

This is one in a series of posts on individual Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as young children, many of whom are under threat of deportation following the Trump administration’s decision in September 2017 to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA.


Growing up in San Diego, Marco Ortiz Sanchez slept in blankets on the floor—his family didn’t own any mattresses. He came to this country with his parents when he was just six months old.

Ortiz, now a sophomore business administration major at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), knows what it means to work hard. At a young age, he helped his father with his landscaping business, acting as a translator and managing the companies’ finances as he grew older. Thanks to their hard work, the Ortiz family’s quality of life improved, reinforcing Marco’s work ethic as well as his love of business.

His determination and drive, particularly in his high school academics, paid off when he was accepted to UCI in the fall of 2017.

Although he was excited to attend, Ortiz felt the pressure that many DACA students feel after being accepted to a prestigious university.

“I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do normal things because I’d always have to be scared,” he said. “You feel like you’re constantly being watched or that you have to be on your best behavior because, I felt, one wrong move and everything would be over.”

Then he found the UCI Dream Center, a program designed to help Dreamers like Ortiz succeed.

“It’s just a feeling you get that you belong and aren’t alone,” Ortiz said. “Other people will be there to help you.” He is especially grateful for the former center coordinator Ana Miriam Barragan. “She helped me be fearless and develop myself as a leader. Without her, my future in business might have been impossible.”

Ortiz became more involved with the center and joined the Encuentros Leadership program, where he mentored 10 at-risk Latinx high schoolers in San Diego last summer.

Ortiz has also been an advisor and panelist for LIFEvest, a financial literacy program at UCI, and was a representative for UCI at the “#SpeechMatters: The Future of Free Expression on Campus” conference in Washington, DC, in March of 2019.

“Whether you disagree with someone or not,” he said, “it’s important to communicate and provide facts and be able to have civil discourse without attacking one another – to detach from some emotions, because that’s when we get defensive. We need to be able to think logically and just talk.”

—Thomas Pool

Higher Education Today