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The Scarlet & Black

Vivienne Kerley ’20 and Immigrant Allies work to assist Iowa’s immigrant community

By Montserrat Castro
castromo@grinnell.edu

Vivienne Kerley ’20, a political science major, spends most of her hours outside of class working for the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) and Immigrant Allies.

She works in the Service and Social Innovation Office at the CLS, where some of the work involves helping students get oriented around the idea of service, as well as helping them find different ways in which they can get involved in the Grinnell community and do service responsibly. One of Kerley’s jobs is coordinating with students who do service learning work-study positions at community partner organizations, which is how she became connected with Immigrant Allies (IA).

“Now I wear both hats. So like, through my work at Service and Social Innovation, I heard about this job. And so then I got really excited about it and kind of like, threw myself into that,” said Kerley.

IA formed in Marshalltown in 2006 after an ICE raid fractured the town’s immigrant community. Their main goal is to create awareness within the community about their immigrant population. In Marshalltown, immigrants make up at least 23% of the community.

“One of the most important things about [IA] is that there’s a rapid response team which works so if there’s ever an ICE raid that happens, they are the first people on the ground to help the immigrants. They make sure people know their rights and make sure there are lawyers there, that it’s not just ICE taking whoever they want,” Kerley said.

Kerley has participated in a variety of events organized by Immigrant Allies that have taken place both in Marshalltown and Ames. The most recent event, which took place in late March, was an ID drive for the immigrant population of Ames. This is an initiative through a North Carolina organization called Faith Action, which recognized the need for people, especially immigrants, to get IDs.

“Whether that’s elderly people who don’t drive, people who lost their documents in a tornado, immigrants, new people coming to Marshalltown that maybe don’t have access to transportation to get to other places in Iowa … it helps a lot of people,” Kerley said.

After receiving instructions from Faith Action on how to do it, Kerley, with Immigrant Allies, secured a source to produce the cards, and consequently collected the information necessary to print these IDs and give them to each person in need of one. In addition, IA partnered with law enforcement so that they will recognize these IDs as verifiable.

Over a hundred people received these forms of identification in Ames. IA will be doing the same in Marshalltown in mid-June, which Kerley said she believes will have much higher attendance.

Before the community ID drives, IA also worked closely with the community after the tornado in Marshalltown last July. Among the worst-affected areas was a Latinx neighborhood. People in the town donated boxes of food, but for this neighborhood, many of the ingredients they received were not things they knew how to cook with. Over winter break, IA led an initiative to encourage people to donate Latinx products to the food box in order to direct their help more usefully.

Kerley’s role with the organization is a mixture of on the ground and logistic and administrative work. She works as a Spanish translator to make interactions easier between community members. She drives within the state as needed, including a weekly visit to Marshalltown, and serves as a liaison for Marshalltown when her supervisor is unable to attend.

“I like being on both ends of it, because it’s kind of fulfilling, and it makes you … get to see kind of how these things happen, but also how they affect people,” Kerley said. “I’m definitely one of the people who is very committed to seeing this come to fruition and be a really viable resource for people.”

Kerley is interested in exploring social justice issues in a rural space, which contrasts with her experience of living ten minutes away from the United States border with Mexico in San Diego. She hopes to continue working with IA through to her graduation, and, additionally, hopes to attend law school in the future and direct her work to advocating for immigrants in the United States.

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    Sarah Kerley-WeeksApr 19, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    I am impressed that the Grinnell community is facilitating this kind of work. I love seeing the connection between what students learn in classes and what is needed in the community. I also appreciate the way that Grinnell is building leadership skills in its students.

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