Edwin Torres' first memory of his parents was over the phone, using an international calling card as a child living in El Salvador to reach family trying to start a new life for him in America.
His parents left the country in the mid-1990s fleeing civil war and gang violence. They planned to seek asylum and get a petition for Torres to join them in California. Facing repeated roadblocks, his mother got him into the country in 2001 without permanent legal papers. He was 8 years old.
"I was ecstatic — everyone said everyone is rich in the U.S. and everyone's dreams come true," he said.
It's a story that's familiar to millions of immigrant families around the nation, and one which Torres now frequently shares on the campaign trail with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose hopes for the Democratic presidential nomination will rest increasingly on immigrant and minority voters in states like South Carolina and Nevada, which caucused on Saturday.
Torres, one of some 700,000 "Dreamers" — undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children — now serves as Klobuchar's director of Latino outreach. Navigating a tenuous legal status under challenge in the courts, Torres is intimately familiar with an immigration system he hopes to change. For now, he has placed his hopes in Klobuchar for the 2020 presidential election.
"I don't have time," Torres said this week, taking a break after staffing a presidential forum on immigration and asylum in Las Vegas. "I walk with an expiration date. I know exactly when I don't have status."
By the time Torres graduated high school, he'd moved 20 times and attended 10 different high schools all over California. His family was homeless twice. Torres said his parents would often tell him that they couldn't leave him anything but the education he was able to get by coming to America, so he thrust himself into his schooling.
He ran for student government and became student body president. He applied for colleges and got into many, but because of his status, he couldn't get any scholarships.
In 2012, Torres was part of the first wave of Dreamers who got status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, better known as DACA. Instituted in 2012 under President Barack Obama, DACA gave Torres the ability to get a job and go to college without fear of deportation. He got scholarships and a full ride to St. John's University in central Minnesota, renewing his DACA status every two years, which cost roughly $500 each time.
Torres said it gave him freedom, but with limitations. DACA recipients do not have a path to U.S. citizenship, and he can't vote. The program is now under challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite the uncertainty, Torres got involved in Minnesota politics, working to elect Democrats like U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, and state Reps. Dan Wolgamott of St. Cloud, and Brad Tabke of Shakopee. Democrats took control of the state House in 2018 and quickly brought up an immigrant driver's license bill. Torres said that showed him the difference elections can make, even though the bill didn't pass.
DFL politics led him to Klobuchar, who won re-election in Minnesota in 2018 by more than 60% of the vote. He hopes that translates in states and districts across the country if she's the Democrats' presidential nominee.
"I want someone who can flip those districts," he said. "We need to win the Senate, we need to win the presidency, and we need to maintain the House so we can pass major immigration reform."
He's been making that case now across the country for Klobuchar, meeting with Latino organizations, local elected officials and citizens in key states like Nevada, Texas and California.
If Democrats take control, he's hopeful they'll pass a sweeping immigration reform bill that includes a permanent solution to DACA, which was challenged by the Trump administration in 2017.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Dreamers' fate by this summer, in the midst of the 2020 election.
But Torres has one date stuck in his head: His DACA status runs out in June.
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042 Twitter: @bbierschbach