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University of Iowa grad, now working for Kamala Harris, shares her immigration story

Lilian Sanchez moved to Des Moines when she was 7 with her mother and sister, escaping an abusive household

Lilian Sanchez, a 2018 University of Iowa graduate, is photographed Jan. 29, 2019, with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at the CNN town hall in Des Moines. Sanchez now is on the Iowa campaign staff for Harris, a Democrat running for president in 2020. (Submitted photo)
Lilian Sanchez, a 2018 University of Iowa graduate, is photographed Jan. 29, 2019, with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at the CNN town hall in Des Moines. Sanchez now is on the Iowa campaign staff for Harris, a Democrat running for president in 2020. (Submitted photo)

One of Lilian Sanchez’s goals as an Iowa campaign staffer for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat running for president, is to help the candidate connect with Latino voters in Iowa.

Sanchez, 23, of Des Moines, knows how important it is for Harris to hear these voices and for Latino voters to discover how Harris will serve them if she’s elected.

“I wanted to work for someone who I knew would be a fighter for the vulnerable,” Sanchez said. “You see the real investment in seeing people as people, not just as votes.”

Sanchez, a 2018 University of Iowa graduate, was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She also was the first Latina voted vice president of the UI Student Government. These firsts, along with her status as a permanent U.S. resident, have made Sanchez feel a responsibility to share her immigration story.

Sanchez came to the United States when she was 7 with her mother, Martha Garcia, and her sister, Alexia, then 5.

“Our story is very similar to many immigrants here in the state and across the country,” Sanchez said. “My mom was fleeing an abusive household in Mexico. We moved to Iowa because my mom thought it would be a great place for us to have a better life and access to education.”

Garcia and her daughters were able to apply for residency through a program for victims of domestic violence, Sanchez said. The family had relatives in Iowa, but Garcia had to work two or three jobs at a time to provide for her children.

“Not speaking English very well when she first moved here and also not being well educated about our rights, she was susceptible to wage theft,” Sanchez said.

But Garcia finished her GED, started her own child care center and now is a U.S. citizen, her daughter said.

After UI graduation, Sanchez was awarded a 10-week fellowship with Amnesty International, which sent her to Oakland, Calif., to develop plans for getting young people involved in their communities. She then applied for an internship in Harris’ Senate office in Washington, D.C.

“I wouldn’t want to work with someone who isn’t pushing the needle on important issues,” Sanchez said. She was thrilled when she got the job as a legislative and operational intern, which involved helping brief Harris on civil rights, criminal justice and other issues.

Iowa Auditor Rob Sand, elected in November, recruited Sanchez for his staff and she worked there from January until June, when Harris decided to expand her campaign team in Iowa.

As deputy political director for Iowa, Sanchez coordinates Harris’ volunteers and staffs events. On July 21 and 22, she accompanied Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia on trips to Sioux City, Denison, Storm Lake and Des Moines to talk with Latino voters about why he supports Harris for president.

“As part of the immigrant community, I can attest there are so many individuals who are afraid to share their struggles due to legal repercussions or fear of violence,” Sanchez said. “I feel privileged to be in a position to talk about my experiences. My family couldn’t have had the success we had without the support from our local communities, Des Moines and Iowa City.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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