Raymond Rico - May 2013 Alumnus of the Month
Hometown: Kansas City, Kansas
Current Job: Immigration Attorney, Garcia Immigration Law Firm, LLC
CHCI Program: 2004 Internship and 2006-07 Fellowship CHCI Program
CHCI Program Placement(s): Placement(s): 2004 (Rep. Dennis Moore - KS), 2006-07 (National Immigration Law Center)
1. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
At heart, I am still a modest Mexican kid from the Heartland. Despite temptations to veer off course, I found my escape by reading the newspaper and political biographies, following current events, politics, policy and the law. Due to CHCI, that nerdy kid was afforded the opportunity of a lifetime to go from the streets of the predominately Mexican Argentine barrio of Kansas City to the world's most hallowed halls of power…Twice. I was selected to the CHCI Internship in 2004 and the CHCI Fellowship from 2006-07. During my internship I was asked on a moment's notice to deliver a speech on behalf of my congressman on the west steps of the capitol, in front of 15,000 people. In 2007, I fought on the front lines for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, took a lead role in organizing some of the first national events specifically for immigrant student rights and worked with Senators, D.C. advocates, and DREAMers during the last weeks and days of the final nationally coordinated push for of the DREAM Act. At 23-24 years of age, those experiences had a profound impact on me, as a young Latino. I felt the sting of defeat not just on issues I cared about, but for the students I grew to love and admire for their courage to speak out despite their immigration status and willingness to fight at all costs for what is right. It’s hard to acquire these lessons from the classroom or from a textbook.
2. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
After my CHCI internship, I worked for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and for the Kansas Hispanic Affairs Commission where we successfully passed in-state tuition legislation for the state in 2004. After the CHCI Fellowship, I continued at the National Immigration Law Center as a policy associate. I still consider the experiences highlighted above to be the best learning leadership experiences I’ve had to date.
I left the Hill and arrived back home to Kansas City the same day I started law school. I spent three years at the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law and was hired at the Garcia Immigration Law Firm, LLC upon graduation.
3. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
CHCI provided me a way to unlock the doors of my own curiosity about life on the Hill, learn from peers studying at some of the top institutions in the U.S. and becoming lifelong friends with them. I have spoken across the nation as an expert on immigration due to my placement and work experience since. Above all, I am proudest of organizing with the DREAMers who became the founders of the United We Dream Network. They are leaders of a movement that will be written in history books for centuries to come. As a political junkie, they helped me see that immigration issues are not just policy positions or political footballs; they are about our shared future in this great nation, creating what America can be, and most of all these issues are about people.
On a daily basis at our law firm, I get to meet interesting people, hear how their lives led them here to the United States, answer their questions about how to navigate the immigration system, and go to court to battle to keep families together. I could not be more self-fulfilled currently and although I am at the office long hours, when you love your job you never work a day in your life.
4. How do you continue to give back to the community?
In all the years I have focused on immigration, there's an ever-present need for educating our communities on the facts, on any new changes in the law, dispelling myths, addressing challenges in immigrant communities, and battling back against restrictionist immigration policies. I have most recently worked to organize DACA clinics, educational discussions on immigration, have spoken to immigrant student groups, elementary school parents, middle school students, counselors, and religious groups about a wide range of immigration topics, I have testified at our state legislature, and work with all comers to organize statewide coalitions to defeat anti-immigrant legislation.
I currently serve on six Boards of directors: The United We Dream Network, The Reach Healthcare Foundation, ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, The Young Latino Professionals of Greater Kansas City, the Hispanic Bar Association of Greater Kansas City, and the Kansas City Workers Rights Board. I also volunteer with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund of Greater Kansas City and actively work alongside immigrant advocacy groups: the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance, Communities Creating Opportunity, Kansas Stronger Together, and Mobilize Missouri.
5. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
I have always sought ultimate self-fulfillment in this life, to never let circumstances dictate my actions, but I still haven't figured out exactly what I want to be when I grow up. I'm still striving to live the American Dream on that path blazed by those who came before me. Will I be an immigration lawyer at retirement? I don't believe I've made my last career move, but I haven't yet waivered from this labor of love and maybe never will. Call me back in 5. Or text. Or whatever the kids are using in 5 years.
6. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Never be afraid to speak truth to power. I never regretted having done so and it may be your last opportunity to speak your mind or forever hold your peace. The days go by incredibly fast, so treasure each learning experience and don't be afraid to take risks to challenge your own leadership capabilities. You will get out of the CHCI experience what you put in, so give it your all. Lastly, CHCI alumni are the best people in the world, have become like family to me and are always willing to look out for you.