Diana Machado came to Red Wing when she was 7 years old. She doesn't remember much about her childhood in El Salvador, except for the violence and knowing that her father wasn't there.
"I remember talking on the phone with him," Machado said. "My mom was left to raise my brother and I."
Machado's father had come to America to get out of the house building industry in El Salvador, where his future was uncertain, and make more consistent money to help build the family's future in the U.S.
"He paid extra for us to come across," Machado recalled emotionally. "I know most people go through the desert or the woods, but my dad wanted us to be safer. He paid extra so we could take cars and buses to get over here.
"We made it from El Salvador to Houston, Texas, in 12 days. That was the first time I saw my dad."
Machado's story was one of five told to a crowd of 100 people at a forum on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — the executive order that keeps children of immigrants from being deported — held Nov. 14 at the Red Wing Public Library. The event was sponsored by a local group called Friends of Immigrants.
Dianne Aisenbrey said that the group formed spontaneously when she and others learned about the threat of DACA going away. She knew that they needed to organize and keep paying attention.
"Find out what's going on and get involved," Aisenbrey told attendees at the DACA forum. "Hold people's feet to the fire about providing humane and just treatment to our immigrant community here."
To lead off the event, immigration attorney Kerry McGuire explained that DACA recipients:
• Came to the U.S. before the age of 16,
• Lived in the U.S. continually since June 2007,
• Were under 31 in June 2012,
• Have not acquired any visas,
• Have been enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, or have obtained a GED,
• Were honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces and
• Have never been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor.
"These are the clients you want to have as an immigration lawyer," McGuire said. "You have to be a perfect client to qualify for DACA."
DACA students speaking at the event shared the same basic message that Red Wing is the only home they've ever known.
"Mexico for me is foreign," said Elena Flores. "I don't know how the government works. I don't know the political parties. I have never really celebrated a major Mexican holiday, to be honest. I consider the United States my home."
Flores is a graduate of Red Wing High School and she has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. She arrived when she was 3 years old and today she is an aspiring entrepreneur, an active volunteer, and a college student at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.
"DACA opened so many doors for me," Flores said. "Through DACA I was able to attend college, but it hasn't been easy.
"I have been commuting to the Cities for the past three and a half years. I was able to pay for the first two years (of community college) by basically working full time. I was able to transfer to Augsburg through scholarships. I currently hold two internships and I'm a tutor on campus and I have to do all this in order for me to afford college."
DACA recipients are not eligible for FAFSA so higher ed can seem out of reach. Many, like Flores, are working hard to save for school.
When Santiago Jimenez graduated from Red Wing High School in 2011, before DACA was instituted, he and other children of immigrants felt stuck. Many universities require a social security number and Jimenez simply lacked the status to apply.
Instead, since acquiring DACA status, he's found work locally at Red Wing Chevrolet. DACA has allowed him to work among equally qualified citizens and become a valued employee.
Jimenez said he values his work as well. Unlike his co-workers whose parents will be entitled to Social Security benefits and have likely been contributing to a 401K, his parents only have him.
"My parents are aging and at some point won't be able to work," Jimenez said. "If DACA went away I really wouldn't know what to do, how to supply for my family."
Hispanic Outreach Executive Director Lucy Richardson estimated that there are 30 DACA recipients living in Red Wing, and there are 7000 residing throughout the state of Minnesota.
"These are remarkable people who are motivated, thoughtful and generous members of our community," Friends member Jane Lorentzen said about the five guest speakers. "They make good neighbors and, when you get to know them, they make good friends too."