marco-final-2One day when Marco Quiroga was in elementary school, his mother sat him down and asked him a question: “Lawyer or doctor?”

Marco enjoyed watching medical shows on TV and answered, “Doctor.” From that point on, his mother would invest a few dollars from every paycheck in Marco’s future—buying a microscope, a stethoscope, anything to keep encouraging him to pursue his goal.

He was just 2 years old when he immigrated to the United States from Peru with his three older siblings and their parents, who entered the country on work visas. After his mother left his father because of domestic abuse, she and the children settled in Orlando, Florida, where she landed a custodial job at Disney World, and cleaned people’s homes on the side to help. When his mother’s visa expired, she continued cleaning homes. She feared returning to Peru, where the dissolution of her marriage would have made it hard for her to survive.

Marco was a good student from the very start, and graduated at the top of his high school class in 2004. But not having a Social Security number meant Marco couldn’t get into the prestigious colleges and universities he wanted to attend. A year after graduating, Marco enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, where he majored in biochemistry. He also quickly assumed an active role in campus affairs, organizing his fellow students to get involved in everything from Habitat for Humanity to Hurricane Katrina relief.

As his college years came to an end, Marco again faced a familiar barrier: the medical schools he wanted to attend required applicants to provide a Social Security number. Marco decided to use this period in his life to help other undocumented youth. He recently started his own organization in Orlando focusing on providing free legal aid to undocumented immigrants so they can be approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Marco’s own application for DACA is currently under review. He said he was “thrilled” to have the support of the LGBT Dreamers Fund so that he could submit it. “Immigrant and LGBT issues have always been separate in my mind, and it is wonderful to see these two communities come together to work on a common cause,” he said.  “Receiving these funds creates a sense of community with other gay immigrants who are in my situation.”

If Marco’s application is approved, he said he wants to apply to medical school and become a general surgeon. But first, he said he feels a personal commitment to continuing his work in the area of advancing the rights and opportunities of immigrants and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.

“I always think of the effort and the sacrifices that my mother has made, and of how hard I have worked to get where I am today,” Marco said. “Getting approved for DACA will change my life. All I want is a chance to become a doctor and help people. That’s my passion. It shouldn’t be so hard for people like me to chase our dreams.”