STORM LAKE — When Monica Reyes arrived in her new Iowa home from Mexico at the age of 3 she became one of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. But growing up in New Hampton, a rural Iowa town of almost 3,600 residents, she said always felt accepted in her community.
“We felt as ‘Iowan’ as any other kid,” Reyes, now a University of Northern Iowa student, said.
Reyes’ stay in the United States is covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy created in 2012 allowing certain undocumented people deferred deportation if they came to the United States as children. Recipients of DACA consideration often are referred to as “DREAMers.”
With childhood memories including the Iowa State Fair and the traditional rivalry of Hawkeyes vs. Cyclones, Reyes has spent her whole life living in Iowa.
But as she grew older, her sense of security in New Hampton began to shift as she and others in the immigrant community began witnessing what they perceived to be police discrimination. Upset by this, Reyes partnered with her then 17-year-old sister, Nilvia, to raise awareness against immigration stereotypes.
Reaching out to immigrants in the community, the sisters compiled testimonies from citizens and began to communicate with groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Later, the two made their way to Des Moines meeting with ACLU representatives to discuss they saw facing New Hampton but also many other Iowa communities.
Monica Reyes was the youngest member of a citizen panel at Buena Vista University at the #UniteIowa Forum on Immigration on Saturday, Aug. 29. Organizers held the forum to offer varying political and social perspectives on immigration issues, but also to engage in civil conversation, a characteristic sorely lacking on the national political scene, forum organizer and Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson said.
For some, the act of reaching out isn’t simple so the Reyes sisters formed DREAM Iowa. DREAM Iowa advocates for the rights of undocumented youth and supports comprehensive immigration reform with one ultimate goal in mind: “Putting a face on the issue of immigration – not about politics, not about numbers – but putting a face on immigration,” Reyes said at the immigration forum.
The Reyes sisters are not the only ones who have experienced emotional effects of being labeled as immigrants.
Both Susan Cruz and Gabriela Davila, Iowa State University students, have watched loved ones struggle to get the same opportunities that they’ve received in higher education.
“Seeing others so brilliant, so bright, and so close to you limit themselves is exhausting, which is why I take my education with a lot of dedication and passion,” Susan Cruz, an Iowa State University student, said. She said she was referencing her sister, a DREAMer who struggled to get accepted into anything more than a two-year college.
DACA has changed Cruz’s perspective, and also that of fellow Iowa State University student Gabriela Davila, on life as they reflect on a time when they were younger and afraid to say anything for fear that their parents would be deported.
“We don’t want to settle for DACA; we want to keep fighting. Fighting for our parents, fighting for our families, fighting for the future of America. It gives us more strength to keep being that voice to the undocumented and to the voiceless,” Davila said.
Part of DREAM Iowa’s mission is to help combat fears and limitations that some immigrants encounter. While young people have received some reprieve from DACA, that is only a small victory in a fight they battle in order to gain that same relief for their parents, other family members and communities of undocumented immigrants.
“I can contribute so much to this country and I want to help it and make it better,” Reyes said. “We want to recognize people and bring them out of the shadows.”
BUENA VISTA UNIVERSITY
FORUM DREW MORE THAN 400
Two Democratic presidential candidates, representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, professional organizations and more than 400 community members and students gathered on Buena Vista University’s Storm Lake campus in northwest Iowa on Saturday, Aug. 29, to participate in the #UniteIowa Forum on Immigration.
HEAR THE PODCAST: REPORT ON THE #UNITEIOWA FORUM
Immigration has stirred a buzz and seen a great divide as the 2016 presidential race launches into full swing.
Situated in Anderson Auditorium in the center of campus, a group of six panelists spoke with each other for approximately 90 minutes about the myriad challenges of immigration: economic, social, and legal. They were:
— Tamara Scott, Republican National Committeewoman and Concerned Women for America state director;
— Kim Hunter, an immigration lawyer;
— Joe Crookham, CEO, Musco Lighting;
— Monica Reyes, DACA recipient and DREAM Iowa founder;
— Sandra Sanchez, director of Iowa Immigrant Voice; and
— The Rev. Charles Valenti-Hein, senior pastor of Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Storm Lake.
Also, Democratic presidential candidates former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley spoke. The forum was intentionally designed to be non-partisan so all of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates were invited but only Chafee and O’Malley accepted.
In addition, Republican Sam Clovis was scheduled to participate but withdrew shortly before the event because he accepted a role as national co-chairman for Donald Trump’s Republican bid for the presidency. Clovis cited major changes in his schedule as a result.
The Register’s Munson organized the event as a pathway to civil dialogue about immigration. “Rural America might not be a border city or a border state but it has a lot to say in this conversation,” Munson said.
Agriculture, in particular, is important in the immigration conversation in Iowa because of a strong economic pull to employ many new immigrants.