Research underway to determine pandemic’s impact on Iowa’s immigrants

DREAM Iowa co-founder and president Monica Reyes. Photo Tar Macias / Hola Iowa

By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio News

A group of Iowa organizations are trying to figure out exactly how hard the pandemic hit immigrants in the state.

The Socio-Economic Health and Well-Being of Immigrants Living in the State of Iowa During the COVID-19 Pandemic project will research how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected, and is still affecting, Iowa’s immigrant population. Nonprofit organization DREAM Iowa partnered with the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC), the AmeriCorps Refugee RISE program and a University of Northern Iowa public health graduate student to survey immigrants and refugees living in the state.


DREAM Iowa co-founder and president Monica Reyes said she wants to present their findings to Gov. Kim Reynolds and other representatives in Iowa government as a “temperature check” for where immigrants are during the pandemic.

“Our overall goal is so that this report, all of this data, is able to be utilized to negotiate more resources for immigrant families,” Reyes said. She also wants to include video testimonials in the analysis release.

UNI graduate student Sam Habinck is working with the organizations on this project for her thesis on the social economic health and overall well being of immigrants living in the state of Iowa during COVID-19. Habinck said the project is not just to point out issues caused by the pandemic, but for health in general.


“Hopefully this kind of sheds some light on policy changes that need to happen within immigrants and refugees for overall health disparities, especially when it comes to the pandemic,” Habinck said.

She hopes the findings will be helpful for lawmakers when there is another health crisis. “I’m hoping this kind of sheds light on like for the next pandemic,” Habinck said. “And what needs to happen, what needs to be in place in order for these vulnerable populations.”


The project leaders will finish hiring surveyors this Friday. Reyes said the hours for the temporary positions are very flexible because many times, interviewees are only available after work hours. All surveyors will complete a brief financial literacy training and Institutional Review Board training, which ensures research is conducted ethically. They will interview immigrant families from all over the state through connections from DREAM Iowa, EMBARC and RISE.

“We have a very diverse community of immigrants here in the state of Iowa, and many different languages spoken within this diverse community,” Reyes said. “So we’re really hoping to get a diverse background of surveyors to be able to help accurately interview the people that will be participating.”


Habinck said she wants to analyze interviews of at least 50 immigrants. Due to social distancing guidelines, the interviews will be conducted over the phone. Habinck said she wasn’t too concerned about how this would affect the data analysis, since so many people are used to digital conversations during the pandemic.

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