Iowa Immigrant Organizations Merge To Form One Advocacy Group

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By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio News

Two advocacy organizations for Iowa’s immigrants and refugees merged last week. The nonprofits decided to become one because some immigrant needs are still unmet in the state.

Iowa Justice For Our Neighbors and American Friends Service Committee Iowa have both served immigrants and refugees in the state for decades. They provide legal services, leadership development and advocacy. On April 1, they officially became one organization: Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice.

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Erica Johnson, the founding director of the new group, said they merged to meet the urgent needs of Iowa’s immigrants.

“Iowa doesn’t have a ton of immigration legal service providers at all, right? And then we’ve got even fewer that are affordable and high quality. And so we want to meet that need by combining our two offices,” Johnson said. “There’s a desert for that in Iowa.”

Iowa MMJ Staff and volunteers.
Photo Iowa MMJ Facebook

Johnson said this merger has been in the making for about three years. She said in 2018, the two groups began reaching out to immigrant and refugee communities in the state to garner support for a possible merger. As time went on, the groups received more support from the communities, which ultimately led to a “thumbs-up” on the merger.

“It feels like definitely, there’s a sense of relief. But there’s more work to do, you know? The vision was not to just create an organization and somehow, magically, all of the problems would be solved, right? We know that there’s work to do, and we’re ready to hit the ground running,” Johnson said.

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The services they offer will remain the same, although Johnson said the merger could lead to more succinct support throughout the state. She said expanding and hiring more staff over time may help Iowa become a more welcoming place. Currently they have seven legal clinics.

Johnson anticipates the combined organization will be able to provide even more support to immigrants and refugees as the pandemic continues and immigration reform policies change.

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“And on the other hand, while we do that, we want to have an eye towards the future, and how we can address the systemic things that are impacting people’s daily lives,” Johnson said.

And that’s something Johnson said has become a more country-wide topic for immigrants and refugees. She hopes Iowa can reflect the national trend.

“And that’s something that I don’t think we’ve been able to scale up to in Iowa. And so that’s been a dream for a lot of folks to really be able to build a movement in our state led by folks who are most directly impacted by these issues, who are Iowans,” Johnson said.

The founding director explained although Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice “logistically” began on April 1, she anticipates a few road bumps for the first few days. She said “beginning of April” was a safer way to describe the launch date. 

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