Iowa City organizations to accommodate possible migrants from surrounding sanctuary cities despite resource struggle

Iowa City organizations plan to unofficially accommodate migrants from the southern border following Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to send them to surrounding sanctuary cities.


Matt Sindt

Tom Novak comforts Patricia S. Fortin as she remembers her husband. After his passing, she was unable to afford their apartment. The Iowa City Catholic worker does what it can to help people like Patricia who have nowhere else to go. Thursday, September 8, 2022.

Colin Votzmeyer, News Reporter

The Iowa City Catholic Worker House is preparing to welcome any migrants bused from the southern border to surrounding sanctuary Midwest cities if necessary.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to send migrants from the Mexico-U.S. border on buses to nationally known “sanctuary cities” including Chicago, Washington D.C., and New York City. 

While Gov. Kim Reynolds denied Abbott’s request to send migrants to Iowa on Sept. 1, Iowa City leaders are scrambling to accommodate migrants who travel from the drop-off points. 

A law signed in 2018 prohibits sanctuary cities in Iowa. Alex Murphy, communications director of the Office of the Governor, wrote in an email statement to The Daily Iowan in response to Abbott adding Iowa City as a sanctuary city. 

“We have confirmed that no migrants will be bused to Iowa from Texas,” she wrote.

As of 2020, 13.7 percent of the Iowa City population was comprised of immigrants.

The Catholic Worker House will reportedly continue its work of immigrant and refugee assistance if migrants do come from other sanctuary cities. 

RELATED: University of Iowa students to educate eastern Iowans on immigration, refugee experiences

David Goodner, a member of the Catholic Worker House, said the organization has two houses of hospitality in Iowa City that currently house roughly two dozen immigrants and refugees.

He said the organization helped over 100 refugee families cross the border in the last year. The Catholic Worker House is prepared to help migrants register their children for school, find legal support if needed, and offer social services should a bus from Texas arrive in town.

“If they have family in Iowa or they don’t have any family anywhere and need a place to stay, we help them get connected and get plugged in here locally,” Goodner said. “Immigrants are the lifeblood in thriving rural communities across the state, so there’s no question at all that it’s a plus for us as a state and as a community.”

Sophie Banegas, a UI second-year medical student, is a first-generation Honduran American and the leader of Escucha Mi Voz, an organization that grew out of the Catholic Worker House. 

She said the shortage of resources does not change how both organizations will respond to migrants traveling to Iowa City.

“That doesn’t mean that we are by any means telling them not to come or pulling back from the work that we do,” Banegas said. “Despite other people’s wishes to move immigrants away from their communities … the people that I’m working with here are welcoming to them and wanting them to come here if that means that they have a better chance of having a home or having resources.”

Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green said Abbott is not coordinating with the city on his plans and may not warn anyone before he sends a bus of migrants to Iowa City.

“That’s the thing that pisses me off so much about this,” Green said. “It’s political point-scoring. This isn’t about solving problems. This isn’t about treating people humanely. This is just a stunt.”

Green said Iowa City is already in a tough spot creating resources for unhoused migrants, so an additional 50 or 60 migrants would require a massive mobilization. 

“I want migrants to get a fair shake, and right now the system that we have is far from adequate,” Green said. “We have a need for those resources right now, and for Gov. Abbott to even put Iowa City’s name on a list is forcing us to utilize [those] resources … instead of focusing on stuff that is important and needful in our community right now.”

Green said the community will still welcome migrants if they do arrive in Iowa City.

“I’m also confident that folks in Johnson County are going to do everything we can to help folks out,” Green said. “We have demonstrated that we look out for one another here, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

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