116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Immigrant advocate groups want Iowa City to become one of the first U.S. cities — and likely the first in Iowa — to provide federal pandemic relief money to undocumented workers.
“There’s a historic opportunity for Johnson County and Iowa City to be on the forward trend of a visionary new way of providing relief — especially to the excluded workers who did the work during the pandemic while the rest of us stayed home,” said David Goodner, co-founder of the Iowa City Catholic Worker House.
Some of those workers and their supporters marched Wednesday in Iowa City from the Catholic Worker House to Mercer Park, where City Manager Geoff Fruin held a listening post to gather community feedback on how to spend a $18.3 million local share from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion federal relief package.
Public comments and results of an online survey will be collected and provided to City Council members for a Sept. 7 discussion.
“Queremos respuestas, no promesas,” — which translates to “We want answers, not promises” — was among the chants repeated by about 75 people who marched Wednesday afternoon carrying signs and wearing red bandannas.
Sikowis Nobiss, of Iowa City, walked with her fiance, Mahmud Fitil, and her children, Alden Nobiss and Pascale Nobiss.
Sikowis Nobiss is Plains Cree-Saulteaux from George Gordon First Nation, an Indigenous group based in Canada. Mexican people who come to the United States to work and raise families also are Indigenous people, she said. Many have put their lives on the line during the pandemic to work in Iowa’s agricultural industry, including at meatpacking plants, she added.
“They are our brothers and sisters. They are our relatives,” she said. “There is no reason they should be excluded from funds when they are essential to the health of our community.”
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition is asking for $54 million, an estimate of all federal pandemic relief money going to Johnson County governments, to go to undocumented immigrants, previously incarcerated people and unemployed workers. They also want governments to put rescue plan money toward hazard pay for low-wage essential workers, affordable housing and public transportation.
The city’s online survey asks residents to rank 10 funding priorities for the city’s share of the aid. Some priorities are on the coalition’s list. Others include supporting the tourism and entertainment industry, investing in water and sewer infrastructure, expanding broadband access and affordability and replacing lost government revenue.
Allocating relief funds to undocumented immigrants or others who did not receive other relief payments is permissible, Assistant Iowa City Manager Rachel Kilburg said Wednesday.
“The law allows you to transfer to a nonprofit organization to administer any program and it also allows direct payments,” she said.
Some larger cities and states directed aid to immigrants through the CARES Act launched last year.
The Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund in June provided $1,000 checks to low-income adults who could show they live in Washington state, have been significantly affected by the pandemic and had not been eligible for other federal stimulus aid or unemployment insurance.
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