Everyone at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is in overdrive to flip the House blue this November. That’s their job.
But perhaps no one in the office feels a more profound sense of urgency to get it done than Javier Gamboa.
“Winning back the House and electing more people who can fight for me, it’s my No. 1 priority,” the 28-year-old said recently.
Gamboa is the organization’s first and only full-time staffer who’s also a “Dreamer,” one of the nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children who receive legal protection through the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program.
His clock is ticking.
If lawmakers don’t reach a deal to codify DACA in legislation by President Donald Trump’s March 5 deadline, Gamboa’s protections will expire in December, just a month and some change after the 2018 midterms. If Democrats don’t take back the House, Gamboa fears he could be handcuffed, put in the back of a truck and sent back to Mexico, a land as foreign to him as the North Pole is to a lizard.
“It’s scary,” he said. “What happens after November if we don’t win?”
As director of Hispanic media at the DCCC, Gamboa is in charge of a narrow but extremely important column of the Democrats’ crusade for the House majority. At least 20 of the 101 Republican-held seats the group is targeting are in districts where Hispanics represent 10 percent of the population or greater.
Democratic House leadership has tried — with mixed results — to force a solution on DACA by wielding their leverage over the ongoing budget negotiations.
But if they can gain a majority in the House in 2018, Democrats wouldn’t have to threaten to shut down the government to get the votes they want.
Watch: DACA Protesters Sit on Senate Steps, Get Arrested
Breathtaking rise through the ranks
Gamboa has risen through the ranks at a breathtaking pace since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2013. He got his start that year as director of new media and digital communications for the state party, a small-shop operation where he was able to gain experience in multiple areas of the Wyoming party machinery.
“There were three of us on staff at the time,” said his first boss, Robin Van Ausdall, then the state party’s executive director. “Javier was the fourth.”
It was a new position created for him, a second-semester senior at Wyoming.
Did he have any experience creating graphics for digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter? Nope.
Had he ever organized a communications strategy for 23 county party chairs to get everyone on the same page? No.
Had he ever even worked a full-time job?
But he caught Van Ausdall’s eye as a volunteer at the state party’s biggest fundraising event of the year, a “high-stakes day,” she said. Van Ausdall had been sifting through applications for a while and hadn’t quite found the type of person she was looking for — because Gamboa hadn’t applied.
Gamboa was everywhere that week, a ball of energy.
“That’s exactly the kind of person that we need when you have a staff that small,” Van Ausdall said. “You need a person who just jumps in and helps and does — whatever.”
So she called him as he was driving back in his Jeep Grand Cherokee for his last semester of college and told him she wanted to hire him after graduation.
“I was on Cloud 9,” he said.
He was even more thrilled — and relieved — the following day when she told him that it didn’t matter that his DACA application hadn’t gone through yet.
In fact, it didn’t matter to anyone at the state party.
‘The best person for the job’
“My thought process was let’s get the best person for job,” said Pete Gosar, the Wyoming Democratic Party chairman at the time. “It’s easy to see with Javier’s career, we made a wise selection.”
Everywhere he has worked, colleagues laud his infectious personality.
When Texas Democratic party deputy executive director Manny Garcia noticed how effortlessly the “gregarious” Gamboa could “fill up a room,” he quickly shifted him from digital strategy — where his outsize personality was walled off behind a computer screen — to a front-and-center communications position.
“He is not from Texas, but there is a lot of Texas in him,” Garcia said.
At the DCCC, Gamboa is one of the most popular employees on staff.
“Javier is a smart operative and critical part of the DCCC team,” communications director Meredith Kelly said. “But it goes far beyond that — Javier is funny, loyal, compassionate and tough. He’s a great colleague and an even better friend.”
Gamboa does not hide from his undocumented status.
One morning in January, Gamboa, 6-foot-2 with stooping shoulders, walked into the lobby of the Democratic National Committee wearing straight-cut jeans, a dark blue blazer, and a black T-shirt with bold white lettering: “WE ARE ALL DREAMERS.”
Proudly pinned to the top of his Twitter page is a tweet letting his followers know how many days he has left until his DACA protections expire.
Gamboa was not always so open, though. He used to be much more secretive.
His American story began in 2001, when he was about to turn 11. His family had secured tourist visas to visit the U.S. from Delicias, Chihuahua, in north-central Mexico. They went to Wyoming.
Gamboa’s father began working in construction. His mother is a custodian.
“Your typical immigrant jobs,” Gamboa said.
He enrolled in public school the following year in seventh grade. That’s when he feels he started to become American.
“Going to classes, building friendships, studying, being part of our public education system — you start to take ownership, and you start to realize that this is your life now,” he said.
“When you’re transitioning from junior high to high school, you’ve already made your group of friends, you’ve already been part of pop culture. You understand the latest TV sitcom that everyone’s talking about.”
‘This is my home’
By the end of middle school, he realized, “This is my home.”
There were, of course, insecurities arising from being an undocumented immigrant, compounded by the adolescent awkwardness and thirst for acceptance that affects everyone in those years.
Never was his status so apparent as when all his friends began turning 16. Gamboa, surrounded by excited teens going to the DMV, fended off questions about when he was going to get his driver’s license.
“You have to lie,” Gamboa said. “You’re fearful whether or not you’re going to be accepted by your peers and your friends and whether or not they’re going to be turned off by knowing that you’re undocumented.”
As DACA takes center stage in Washington in ongoing negotiations for a sweeping immigration deal between Democrats and Republicans, Gamboa is struck at times by his dual role as a recipient of the program and a communications professional who deals with it as a matter of policy.
When Trump announced in September he would not renew DACA in 2018, Gamboa was in charge of preparing a press release and sending it out to his media contacts.
“I remember freaking out because as a communicator and a professional, you want to send it out right off the bat,” he said.
“But at the same time this is your life.”