Hillsboro entrepreneur, DACA recipient works to support family
Driving up Northwest Pumpkin Ridge Road in rural Washington County recently, Daniel Diaz says he went back in time.
The co-owner of the Hillsboro-based business NW Equipment Rentals was delivering an excavator to a customer for a farm project.
As he drove, he realized he passed the former migrant farmworker camp he grew up on with his family.
"Whoa," he remembers thinking to himself. "A lifetime ago."
Diaz looks back fondly on the time he spent exploring the woods behind the camp with other kids, and getting up at dawn to go to the blueberry fields with his parents when he was too young for school.
As a self-made entrepreneur, the 29-year-old says seeing his parents' hard work and hearing stories about their journey through the desert from Mexico to the United States, and ultimately to Washington County, have motivated him throughout his life.
"Sometimes I feel like I have it bad, but then I think about my family and where they were coming from," Diaz said. "You just gotta feel blessed with what you have here."
But his path hasn't been easy, he acknowledged.
Diaz is one of 640,000 people in the United States, referred to as "Dreamers," protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Barack Obama-era program has allowed people brought to the United States as children to stay and work or go to school without fear of deportation since 2012.
Diaz always saw starting his own business as a way to prosper in this country, he said.
"It didn't matter what it was, I just always wanted to create a business," Diaz said. "It was just in my sights to do so but I didn't have a mentor to guide me the right way. All I knew was it needed to be a path I went through."
In high school, he got a job doing agricultural labor at a vineyard, but he was paid under the table because the DACA program hadn't yet been established.
"I was very intrigued. After the harvest, I was like, 'Where do the grapes go?'" Diaz said. "Sure enough, I got an internship at a winery."
He used his earnings to take prerequisite classes at Portland Community College, and later went to Chemeketa Community College, where he took night classes in the wine studies program.
"Just waking up early, going to work, get out of work, run over to Salem, be done by 11 p.m., then come back home and study, and then go back," Diaz said.
It was a grueling schedule. After a while, Diaz began to feel the effects of burnout, he said.
He was at a point where he didn't think it would be feasible to jump between work and school in time to take the last class of the associate's degree program, which was a chemistry class that was only offered in the middle of the day.
But he saved up enough money to buy a house in Newberg, which, after a few years, he sold at a profit and used the profits to start his first business, Destination Lubrication. The Newberg-based business is a mobile mechanics service.
Diaz says Destination Lubrication let him put a skill into practice that he learned from winemaking: being able to use technology to systematically make businesses more efficient. It's also a skill his friend Nick Valencia, who was the original founder of NW Equipment Rentals, recognized in Diaz.
Valencia started the heavy equipment rental company in January 2020, Diaz said. By June, facing struggles caused by the pandemic, Valencia brought Diaz into the business.
Currently, Diaz is implementing software that allows both of his businesses to more easily allow customers and employees to track services and equipment and schedule services online.
He says the hope is that he can make both businesses efficient enough to be like a franchise, in which anyone can establish a new location.
Diaz is motivated to succeed not just for himself, but also for his parents. He wants to be successful enough that he can support them when they retire, he said.
"They provided for me when I was a kid. When the time comes, I don't want it to be something my family has to stress over," Diaz said, adding that his parents won't be able to access Social Security income due to their immigration status.
Diaz says during the Trump adminstration's attempts to end DACA, he was so consumed with getting his businesses running that he didn't think about it much.
He says he leaned on the idea that immigration officials might take his business ownership into account.
"If it's the debt I have to pay, I'll pay it. I want to be here. I'm an Oregonian," he said.
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would grant Dreamers permanent residency.
The bill isn't likely to become law anytime soon, however. Senate Republicans, who hold 50 seats in the chamber, have blocked votes on the bill through the filibuster six times, including one time this month.
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