Alejandro Ortiz: NIEP community organizer highlight

Get to know one of the eight National Immigrant Empowerment Project, or NIEP, community organizers that are advocating alongside members of their community and empowering the immigrant community to take the lead in creating long-lasting, positive changes in their cities.

Alejandro Ortiz from American Friends Service Committee, soon to be Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, Des Moines, Iowa

Why do you enjoy working with the immigrant and refugee community?

Much of our infrastructure exists in a way that is not accessible for many in our immigrant and refugee communities. These individuals often have to advocate for themselves or find others to advocate for them just to be treated as human beings. I’ve had the honor of growing up surrounded by immigrants and refugees, and I have seen that these communities are very driven and overwhelmingly friendly. Unfortunately, they often face many barriers when working to get their voices heard and acknowledged.

What inspired you to enter this field of work?

Before joining the team, I was helping individuals prepare for the citizenship test. While doing this, I quickly learned how many in these communities love to learn about what they can do for themselves and others, they just haven’t had someone there to help guide them in the right direction. I also saw how my family and many workers in immigrant and refugee communities were being ignored during the virus. These workers don’t have a voice or an infrastructure to organize.

In your opinion, what benefits does integration offer your community?

What strategies have you found most impactful when promoting integration? Accessing resources in Iowa can be complicated for just about anyone. Unfortunately, Iowa often lacks translation/interpreting services, thus creating even more barriers. What could be helpful for migrant communities is having multilingual institutions that can assist and advocate for individuals.

Immigrants and refugees also face healthcare, economic and social barriers, so it is our responsibility as a community to mitigate those obstacles and create a community where people can find true equity.

How have community organizing efforts impacted your community?

We have been able to get local and national attention to the issues immigrant and refugee workers are facing due to COVID-19; I believe this has created public pressure for these plants to make policy changes.

In what ways have immigrants and refugees been involved in grassroots organizing?

Any work that advocates for immigrant and refugee rights should center the voices of those communities and, particularly, those most vulnerable. This means that even if the individuals cannot partake in the specific action, decisions and messaging should prioritize the opinions of those being impacted. In my work helping food processing workers, I have met and spoken to workers asking them directly what actions they believe should be taken.

How has the immigrant community been empowered in your community?

Why is it beneficial for them to feel empowered? Uplifting and empowering immigrant communities is a crucial component in establishing a more equitable community. How someone chooses to express their culture and integrate into their communities will not be the same for each individual, our role as allies and advocates is to listen and learn from these individuals and use our privileges to elevate those words.

Can you briefly explain your project and what changes you are hoping to see over the next few years?

What do you hope communities across the country will learn from the National Immigrant Empowerment Project (NIEP), your project specifically? A large component of my project will focus on empowering immigrant and refugee workers. This means engaging in dialogue and providing avenues for workers to communicate with one another. Often these communities face obstacles that create an environment where workers are afraid to speak up. By helping create these conversations, we can begin to elevate the voices of the workers.

In the next few years, I hope that immigrant and refugee workers will feel empowered and have multiple avenues to voice concerns. I hope our communities embrace these voices as integral to the decision-making process because what we see now is a culture where decisions that impact migrant communities are made behind closed doors.