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New director of Office for New Americans draws on experience immigrating from Ecuador

Iris Ramos Jones went from sleeping on a mattress on the floor to becoming a real estate agent to leading the immigrant-focused agency at Lombardo’s request.
Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon
State Government
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Ten years ago, Iris Ramos Jones emigrated to the U.S., leaving her family and her job as a hospital administrator behind in Ecuador. 

She said it was not in her plans to leave, but the political and socioeconomic situation in her home country left her with no choice. She had to learn English, navigate the immigration system, find a new career and a new community to call her own.  

“I was always thinking ‘Why is this happening? Why me? Why now?’” Ramos Jones said. “Those challenges were not just because. I can now — based on my experience and knowing firsthand and understanding the challenges — I can help other immigrants and empower them.”

Ramos Jones was appointed this week by Gov. Joe Lombardo as the new director of the Office of New Americans (ONA), where she said her goal is to help immigrants achieve the American dream and provide the resources she wishes she had when she needed them a decade ago. 

ONA was proposed by former Gov. Steve Sisolak and created in 2019 with the goal of creating a centralized space for services, resources and information for immigrants and refugees while promoting civic and economic engagement.

According to a recent report by the American Immigration Council, about 20 percent of Nevada’s population is foreign-born. The report also found that about half of all immigrants in the state are naturalized citizens and more than 197,000 are eligible to apply for citizenship. 

Ramos Jones said she hopes to add to the partnerships between ONA and community groups to further improve the overall quality of life of potential and new Americans. One of her visions is to promote the importance of contributions immigrants have brought to the state. Because immigrants account for about 30 percent of the business owners in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, she said small business and entrepreneurship resources are especially important.

The American Immigration Council report also showed that immigrants in Nevada paid $3.2 billion in federal taxes and $1.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2018. 

Before her appointment, Ramos Jones was a successful real estate agent, even being named one of the “Who’s Who Under 40” honorees by the Las Vegas Realtors association. She said getting to where she is now was not easy but that she is “stubborn” and kept pushing forward for the sake of her daughter. 

“I went from sleeping with my daughter on a mattress on the floor to where I am right now,” Ramos said about her journey. “This could not be possible in my country, but in the United States it is possible. That's why I am an advocate of the American dream.”

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