Director of Policy Advocacy and Research at El Centro 913-677-0100
Melinda Lewis isn't the kind of activist who fires up a crowd at a sign-waving immigration rally. But while charismatic protest organizers come and go, Lewis is the voice that's often lacking from the emotional debate: consistent and data-driven. As the director of policy advocacy and research at El Centro — a KCK nonprofit that offers educational, social and economic resources to the area's Latino community — Lewis is the go-to fact-finder for Kansas' burgeoning Hispanic population. As the rhetoric about the invasion of illegal immigration has gained steam in recent years, Lewis has gathered hard data on the real impact of Latinos living in Kansas City, Kansas, with comprehensive surveys about immigrants' experiences. With that knowledge, she's become an immigration watchdog at the Capitol in Topeka, not only acting as the voice of reason opposing bad bills but also advocating for progressive measures such as in-state tuition for immigrant students. When she's not representing Kansas City in national efforts for comprehensive immigration reform, including the New American Opportunity Campaign, she's spending her Saturday mornings getting legal immigrants registered to vote or traveling to conferences. It may not be flashy, but it's the kind of activism that lasts long after the banners and protest signs have come down.