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Immigrants keep pressure on city council to support them

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Excluded workers
Immigrants cheer as Ninoska Campos finishes her statement at public comment.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - As Iowa City leaders get ready to spend $18.3 million in funds from President Biden's American Rescue Plan, one group has been the loudest in asking for it: undocumented immigrants and low-wage workers.

"We took the risk to leave and go work, so that society would keep functioning. We did this knowing we could get sick and spread it to our kids," Ninoska Campos said through an interpreter at Tuesday night's council meeting.

The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition formed early this summer, under the belief that immigrants should be the number one recipient of federal dollars from the $1.9 trillion relief bill Biden signed in March. They say immigrants in Iowa City and Johnson County did things like stock our grocery shelves, and deliver our food during the height of the pandemic. And now, the city should repay them.

Eligible adults have gotten $3,200 total in stimulus checks thus far during the pandemic: $1,200 as part of the CARES Act in March 2020, $600 as a relief measure in December 2020, and $1,400 as part of the ARPA in March 2021. Undocumented immigrants did not get these payments and many also struggled to get unemployment benefits.

"Everyone in this room is an excluded, essential worker during the pandemic," Campos said in Spanish, motioning around the room to the other 80 immigrants and low-wage workers at the council meeting with her. "We're here asking for your support."

The coalition wants every dollar the different municipalities in Johnson County can give them. A spokesperson for the group says the least they would be willing to accept would be $8.5 million; half from Iowa City and half from Johnson County. That money would be used to give $3,200 payments to 2,500 immigrants and their children.

Tuesday's protest was just the latest event the coalition has planned. In August, they held a "Marcha de Pueblo" (March of the People) throughout southeast Iowa City. They have also gotten support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Human rights Commission.

City staff gave their recommendations on how to use the ARPA funding Tuesday during the council work session. City Manager Geoff Fruin suggested they allocate between 1 and 1.5 million to these direct payments for immigrants.

"It's not enough money. There's not enough funding going to these folks that are a part of our community and who helped bring us through the part of the pandemic we've been through so far, and have kept us safe and healthy," Katie Biechler said, a member of health care worker's union at UIHC. The union is one of 16 groups that have signed on as part of the coalition.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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