Former Mexican police officer denied asylum in US shows need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform now

Des Moines, IA.  On Sunday night Constantino Morales, a community leader on immigration issues in Iowa, was shot and killed after being deported to Mexico on September 2, 2014.  Constantino, a former police officer for the Guerrero State Police Force in Mexico, came to the United States in 2010 after being assaulted three times by armed men and receiving threats while working.

In 2011, Constantino joined Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement when he experienced wage theft in Iowa and racial profiling by the local police departments.  He became more involved in immigrant justice issues and quickly became a community leader in Des Moines, helping lead actions related to immigration reform, sharing his testimony and getting others in the community involved in fighting for fair and just immigration reform.

In 2011 Constantino received his first notice to appear before court for residing in the US without documentation. Due to the fact that he had been a police officer in Mexico, Constantino told the immigration judge that he was scared to return home, the judge told him to apply for asylum. He applied for asylum in June 2013 and was denied asylum on February 27, 2014.

He didn’t stop there.  Members of the community started a “Stop Constantino’s Deportation” campaign.  Community leaders and Constantino met with former Congressman Latham, Senator Grassley, Des Moines Sherriff Bill McCarthy, State Legislators, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff and other appointed and elected officials who could have weighed in to stop Constantino’s deportation.  They also started asking other Iowans to write letters and make phone calls to ICE to ask them to cancel the deportation – generating hundreds of postcards and over 200 calls to ICE.

As a former Mexican police officer who stood up to publicly against drug trafficking he knew that if he returned to Mexico he would face grave danger.

At a meeting on August 6, 2013, Constantino told Rep. Latham, “If I am sent back, I will face more violence and I could lose my life. We are in severe need of fair immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. We don’t want any excuses; we know you can make this happen.”

In April 2014, CCI members were in Washington D.C. and pleaded with Senator Grassley to take action to stop Constantino’s deportation.

On April 21, 2014, Iowa CCI sent a second request for prosecutorial discretion, with letters of support from Des Moines Sherriff Bill McCarthy and Iowa State Representative Bruce Hunter, but the request was denied.  Prosecutorial discretion is the authority of an agency or officer  to exercise discretion in deciding when to prosecute and when not to prosecute based on a priority system has long been recognized as a critical part of U.S. law.  Specifically, prosecutorial discretion may be exercised when deciding whether to: issue a detainer; initiate removal proceedings; focus enforcement resources on particular violations or conduct; stop, question, or arrest a particular person; detain or release someone on bond, supervision, or personal recognizance; settle or dismiss a removal case; stay a final order of removal; pursue an appeal; and/or execute a removal order.

The news of Constantino’s death has saddened and angered the Latino and Immigrant Rights Community.

“This tragedy could have been prevented,”  said Luis Rodriguez, CCI Leader.  “People are dying while Congress and our elected officials fail to act. How many more people have to die?”

Every year, thousands of people are torn apart from their families and deported back to Mexico and other Latin American countries.  There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States that live in the shadows, who fear deportation.

CCI and other community leaders are planning a vigil to honor and remember Constantino and his passion for helping undocumented immigrants escape from the shadows.  More details to come about time, date and location of vigil. Constantino Morales is survived by a wife and six children.


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CCI members hail proposed relief for immigrant families

Obama’s executive order a needed step in bringing Comprehensive Immigration Reform back into national spotlight

Des Moines, IA – Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are applauding proposed executive action on immigration by President Obama.

Initial press reports indicate the proposed changes could protect some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. According to reports, the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be able to apply to remain in the country and work. The reforms are also expected to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to help more undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. This includes an estimated 16,500 aspiring Iowans, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“We applaud President Obama’s executive order. We have been fighting for years to win relief from a broken immigration system that tears our families and our communities apart.” said Iowa CCI board member Nataly Espinosa. “Because of this action, families will be able to stop living in fear.”

“Families across Iowa and throughout the nation deserve the dignity to call themselves citizens after living in the U.S. for decades,” said Iowa CCI member Maria Romero. “Not only that but they have been stimulating the economy for years but have yet to reap benefits from those contributions.”

Since the passing of the Senate-approved immigration plan last year, Iowa CCI members have been educating and mobilizing communities to push Congressman Tom Latham and Steve King to support CIR.

“Senator Grassley and Congressmen Latham & King have had six years to work with President Obama to find a workable solution to the crisis facing our families and communities, but they have obstructed and refused every step of the way.” Added Espinosa. “They are out of touch with everyday Iowans on this issue. Iowa is welcoming, and we support today’s action with the realization that there is more work to be done.”

Iowa CCI members have been organizing and mobilizing communities in support of comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together and that guarantees a clear pathway to citizenship, defends civil and worker rights, and maintains protections for future immigrants to the U.S.

Iowa CCI believes that comprehensive immigration reform should focus on inclusion, not exclusion, and that citizenship should not be limited to small groups of specialized workers or people with advanced degrees in technology, science, or engineering.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a group of everyday people who talk, act and get things done on issues that matter most. With thousands of members from all walks of life — urban and rural, black and white, immigrants and lifelong Iowans — CCI has been tackling tough issues and getting things done for more than 35 years. 



Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, former CCI all-star Latino organizer, was awarded the  Iowa Latino Leadership Award!


This award is an honor from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and was given to Vanessa on November 1 in front of a packed house! We miss her dearly, from her perseverance, smarts, to her constant kindness, and she’s already making waves in her next adventure! LULAC could not have picked anyone better.

We wanted to spread her inspiring words – enjoy!

Good evening. Buenas noches! I am truly honored to receive this award tonight, and very grateful to LULAC for having chosen me as the recipient of this award in 2014. I would like to dedicate this to my family, especially my mom Mirna, who is in Venezuela, where I was born and raised. And to my husband, Michael, who has been my compañero and support during my time as a community organizer. I am extremely thankful to my hermana en la lucha (sister in the struggle), co-organizer Ani Mancebo, and to the members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), the organization that gave me the tools and support to organize and win important victories in our communities.

Powerful victories for Latinos and other workers of color, such as getting a company like Hubbell Homes to adopt an anti-wage theft clause in their contracts; or recovering over $175,000 in wages stolen from workers; or empowering Latino workers to speak at the Statehouse to push laws that crack down on wage theft, raise the minimum wage, and give drivers’ licenses to immigrants. Or more recently, and with the support of great allies like LULAC, the adoption by the Des Moines City Council of a responsible bidder questionnaire to ensure workers and taxpayers are protected from unscrupulous companies bidding on public projects.

Our work, alongside important allies like LULAC, has positioned CCI as one of the leading organizations standing up for the dignity of workers. I am very proud of this work, and of the lucha, the spirit of struggle so characteristic of our Latino community. I thank all of you for this honor, and for fighting for social justice alongside our people. The struggle lives on! La lucha sigue! Thank you all for this great honor – Muchas gracias.

Thanks for all of your hard work Vanessa – onward!


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We had our first community coffee hour on #WorkersRights, with special guests Adam Wombacher from the Department of Labor, and Mitchell Mahan from Iowa Workforce Development!

The office was bustling with 40 folks.  After a “social” hour, we made a collective call to President Obama asking him to take bold action on comprehensive immigration reform,  as that day was the National Day to Stand Up for Families.

The evening consisted of a presentation on wage amd hour laws, and workers’ rights, the wage claim process, as well as misclassifications and filing OSHA complaints. The #WorkersRights training engaged the room, and what was really significant? Many heard each other’s story of wage theft/abuse on the job for the first time.

This community coffee hour is a monthly gathering for workers to create community, get trained on their rights at work, and learn to take the first steps towards organizing in their workplace.

Join us for our next community coffee hour on #WorkersRights!


Join the Fight

  • Contact us for more information. !Hablamos español!
  • Join as an Iowa CCI member
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“…it reminds everyone that the immigration debate is not about politics or statistics but about human beings, it is a way to remember to put people first,” said Reverend Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz.

Iowa CCI members joined a coalition of other folks at Congressman Latham’s office in Des Moines to fight for immigration reform every Tuesday, for 30 weeks in a row. Around the noon hour, you might have seen the dedicated group along Grand Ave. with signs like “Honk for immigration reform!” or “No human being is illegal.”


This past Tuesday, their 30th week of holding these vigils, they lined the street, holding those signs firmly, with unmatchable determination.

Click here for more photos!

They then filled Congressman Latham’s office to hold a vigil.

“The vigils are important for several reasons.  First of all, so that immigrants know that there are people who are on their side, standing with them, and caring for them.  It doesn’t matter if in any given week immigration is an important topic or not on the federal or state level – we do the vigils because for many people, immigration is their daily life…

… it is a way of reminding our elected officials that there are people who care about immigration,” said Reverend Alejandro. Congressman Latham’s staff remained in their personal offices and did not address the concerns presented.

30 weeks dedicated to remembering that the war on immigration’s toll is lives, families, and hope.

Maria Romero, CCI member, routinely attended the vigils. “This is important because families need to stay together. People left violent countries seeking a better life,” said Maria.

Congressman Latham is stepping down at the end of this year, but can still help move immigration reform forward – after all, he had a weekly lesson in how to do so.

Immigration policy is ultimately decided by those in politics. This policy drastically affects human lives. This is a human issue, far more than a political one. Human lives have much more value than political conflict – for political change, that must be realized.

Thank you to our members and those who stood in solidarity for immigration reform!

Agree? Tweet this story! Don’t forget to add: #nomasdeportaciones

CCI members and staff went to a Des Moines Target  to stand in solidarity with our friends at Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Luchas –
Center for Workers United in the Struggle (CTUL).
CTUL is an organizational ally located in Minneapolis.

CTUL has been organizing cleaning workers for some time now and they have a campaign targeted at Target.

Target in the Twin Cities, Des Moines, and other locations subcontract their cleaning services. Workers are paid poverty wages. Target has the power, as one of the largest companies in our country, to hold their subcontracted companies to a higher standard – they can demand they pay a living wage.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently published a report that links poverty wages to health disparities. The report shows that workers earning poverty wages are more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes and are more prone to stress and other ailments when compared to higher wage earners. These workers live on average 8 years less.

We delivered this letter to a Des Moines Target and requested information on who they contract with to clean their stores.