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Iowa intern on overcoming fear and uniting his community

Ricky Corona
Ricky Corona served as a Lang Intern with the AFSC Iowa Immigrant Rights Program from September 2017 to April 2018. Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Ricky Corona served as a Lang Intern with AFSC Iowa from September 2017 through April 9, 2018.

What kind of work have you been doing with AFSC?

I was originally brought in to handle the hotline we have going on. Managing our statewide hotline, training volunteers, and creating community rapid response teams across Iowa to help families that have been affected by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] – either a family member was detained by ICE, or a mom, dad or kids need some sort of assistance. That’s the goal of the community response teams – to help.

Can you share a story that has stuck with you?

There have been various stories since the hotline started back in February 2017. I don’t have a specific story that has stuck with me because all of them have had an impact on me. We often hear the case that the breadwinner was arrested, and the family is left alone, with nobody to help them out, especially with income.

We’ve gotten many calls where the wives or the partners of the people who were arrested – they call in and say, “I need some help with rent, or I have so many kids, can I get some help with food?” Or, “I don’t know what to do, can you guys help me out with what next steps to take?” There’s not one specific story that’s stuck with me so far, but they all played a role in me becoming who I am now.

What have you learned through this internship and what has surprised you?

What I’ve learned is this work is hard. It’s really hard work. I had an engineering background prior to coming here, and let me tell you, engineering compared to this is nothing. This is way past all the math and all the knowledge you had. It’s really hard, in my opinion.

The main reason it’s really hard is there are so many variables you can’t control, and you don’t know what will happen. With human interactions, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Especially for a community organizer, it’s tough. Say you’re trying to bring the community together to fight against something or put the ideas of the community out there, it’s hard getting everybody on the same page.

We as humans are tough individuals. That’s one thing I’ve learned, working with the community, working with any human being is hard. Especially trying to mobilize them, to encourage them to not fear, but to fight for what they believe in. That’s really empowering, but hard.

Would you like to talk about some of the work you’ve done with businesses impacted by ICE raids?

Along with a community member, Fernando, we took it upon ourselves to go talk with businesses and let them know about the rights they have when and if ICE shows up at their business. The reason we did this is we’ve noticed, again through the hotline, tracking patterns that Latino businesses were being specifically targeted by ICE. We didn’t see any American restaurants being attacked by ICE; we saw businesses where Latinos predominately work.

So we went to Mexican restaurants and Mexican stores here in the area, in Des Moines, to talk with them about their rights. Many of them were really happy that we were out there, telling them about their rights, because they had heard about other incidents in the area and they wanted to see how they could better prepare themselves and their employees.

It was beneficial. We were taking little signs that say “Private – employees only.” Because a lot of restaurants don’t have those signs. They basically force ICE to have a warrant signed by a judge so they could go behind the scenes, in the kitchen area, things like that.

Owners and people in general were grateful for that, and it’s a project that’s going to continue on even after I leave. Community members will take it upon themselves to educate our community about our rights and to better protect ourselves.

Why do you do this work? Why do you care?

My family had all previously been undocumented. I’m first generation here in the U.S., born and raised in South Central L.A. Growing up with a family that was undocumented, it gave me some fear. Even though I was born here and I’m a citizen of the U.S., whenever we were driving somewhere and I was sitting in the back and there was a cop near us, my dad used to say, “Sit down, because they’re going to take you away, or take me away. Be a good child.”

I think I was tired of having our community be afraid. This gave me an opportunity to help out in that way, to help overcome that fear and show our community that if we’re united, we can basically do anything we want. We can protect ourselves, we can protect our families. Because we all came here seeking a better life for our families, for our kids, and we just want to live here in peace, like everybody else.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Even after I leave here, I will still continue to be involved. This has impacted me so much that I can’t just say, “Oh, that was just a chapter in my life.” I think this will stay with me forever.

Prior to coming here, I was like, Oh, I just want to be an engineer, make money and create a fund to help people with scholarships. But now, after working here, I noticed there’s a need for immigration lawyers. So that’s possibly my next step. Getting my engineering degree, and then getting my law degree, become an immigration lawyer and help out people, hopefully pro bono. The plan is to have an engineering job where I get my income, and then I could have my lawyer gig on the side and just help people out for free. This influenced me a lot.

It’s been great having you here, and we so appreciate your work. Thank you.


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