Advocating for change

As people and organizations continue to fight through COVID-19, immigration advocates and allies around the country carry on their efforts to advocate for the well-being of their immigrant neighbors. Joined by members of the community, the media, partners and other nonprofits, CLINIC affiliate, American Friends Service Committee of Iowa, or AFSC, stepped up to create change and promote immigrant integration. Working in various avenues, AFCS is supporting and empowering the immigrant community during these trying times and thereafter.

With a small workforce, Program Director, Erica Johnson has been intentional about their work, by “figuring out the need, where we are at, and where we want to be when this is all over,”, said Johnson. Recognizing their strengths as an organization helped AFSC determine their next steps of action.

Similar to barriers experienced by other affiliates, immigrants in Iowa lack access to COVID-19-related information in any language other than English. “Language equity has been underscored and difficult due to the English only Law,” said Johnson. In 2002, Iowa enacted the English Language Reaffirmation Act, which, according to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, means “all official documents, regulations, orders, transactions, proceedings, programs, meetings, publications, or actions taken or issued, which are conducted or regulated by, or behalf of, or representing the state and all of its political subdivisions shall be in the English language.” With constant news and updates on COVID-19, it quickly became overwhelming for the team of three to reproduce the information in different languages. Partnerships with larger organizations around the state, allowed AFSC to focus on other needs identified by the community, while their partners worked to translate information and put pressure on local officials to increase accessibility. AFSC is part of a community response team, with 11 other response teams around the state. The teams connect weekly to share resources and brainstorm strategies to overcome barriers and challenges as identified by their immigrant community.

Financial assistance has been an increasing need for many undocumented immigrants because they don’t qualify for federal or state relief. AFSC and their partner church, Walnut Hills United Methodist Church, already offer financial assistance to help families if a loved one has been detained by ICE. As the pandemic hit central Iowa, many families began to experience financial hardship due to job loss. Within a couple of weeks, the account was converted to help immigrant families affected by COVID-19.

As anticipated, the need was immediate and large. With funds running low quickly, AFSC collaborated with the Des Moines Community Foundation and Al Exito and Proteus to create the Central Iowa Immigrant Community Support Fund Initiative. The Disaster Recovery fund of the Des Moines Community Foundation invested $75,000 to support this initiative. AFSC and other partners also worked with La Q Buena, a local radio station. They hosted a weeklong radiothon to help raise funds for this initiative. With support from the community, businesses, and other nonprofits, the partners exceeded their funding goal by the third day.

Prior to the pandemic, AFSC began organizing around workers’ rights. Once the state implemented shelter in place orders, AFSC responded quickly. “COVID-19 has uncovered the big and obvious abuse that occurs in packing plants around the state,” said Johnson. Through a workers survey AFSC learned that roughly 61 percent of respondents were still working their regular schedules, only 47 percent of employees received information about COVID-19 from their employers and 30 percent had access to masks and were able to follow the 6 feet distancing protocol as recommended by the CDC. Advocating on behalf of the employees, children and family members joined AFSC on writing a statement asking the governor of Iowa, the Department of Public Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to “direct Iowa’s businesses to take decisive steps to protect [the] state’s workforce from COVID-19.” 66 partners from faith and community-based organizations also signed on.

As they all patiently wait for a response, AFSC is prepping for their next steps. They are currently planning a week of action that will encourage members of the community to participate and hold these packing plants accountable. As they prepare toolkits, template emails to local officials and letters to the editors, there are various ways for everyone to get involved and let their voice be heard.

CLINIC applauds AFSC Iowa and their community members for their efforts to create an environment where everyone, regardless of immigration status, can feel safe, protected, welcomed and part of the community. Learn more about AFSC and their efforts.

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