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For LULAC award recipients, helping immigrant families is personal

David Suarez/Beth Waldon

Two southeast Iowans are receiving high praise this week for working around-the-clock to help families affected by last month's immigration raid in Mount Pleasant.

For Ottumwa resident David Suarez, all it took was a phone call; confirmation that there actually was an ICE raid happening at Midwest Precast Concrete.

"So immediately, I drove to Mount Pleasant and tried to get together with the families affected," Suarez said.

Suarez is a dedicated volunteer with the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa. The national civil rights organization, also known as LULAC, is a strong supporter of the Latin American community.

“We work to fight racism, support our community, organize and empower Latinos across the state,” said Michael Reyes, LULAC Iowa State Director. “We’ve had a busy year. It’s time to acknowledge what we’ve accomplished, thank some of our members who are working hard and prepare for the future.”

LULAC is doing so this week, by naming Suarez the next man of the year. Suarez will be joined by LULAC’s woman of the year, Dina Saunders in receiving special recognition this weekend.

"We have many talented people who have invested their time and energy and David and Dina are examples of talented and spirited people," said LULAC Deputy State Director Maria Bribriesco. "I don't think we've ever experienced such tumultuous times.... it is incumbent upon people of good faith and good will to step up and speak out for justice and that is what we do."

Each recipient has a personal mission to stand by immigrant families.

"My father, he immigrated from Portugal so I guess I'm the second generation here," Saunders said. "People come here to have a better life. People say, 'well, I don't mind if they come as long as they come legally,' but the problem is, our system is not fair."

Saunders works for the Mount Pleasant Community School District as a English Language Learners Teacher at the middle school. The day of the raid, she said her first order of business was to notify every student who might be affected.

"I pulled the kids out in the hall and said 'hey, you better call your parents and make sure everything is OK at home,'" she said.

As for Suarez, some days didn't end until after 10 o’clock at night. He said several hours were spent taking phone calls and coordinating resources for each family.

"That was a really long week for everybody," Suarez said. "For all the participants in these efforts."

Suarez said he does it because he can relate to the long journey to citizenship.

"I am an immigrant myself, I am the first generation in my family to be an immigrant in the United States," he said. "I recently became a U.S. citizen so this is something personal for me…this is something that is really, really important for me."

Suarez added that there is still a lot of work to be done. He said so far, 20 of the 32 men taken into custody last month have posted bond and returned to their families.

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LULAC's State Convention and Banquet Dinner starts at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 16 at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa.

WANT TO GO?

Seats are $35. For more information or to purchase tables or seats, call Diane Soliz at 309-236-6232.


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