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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 18, 2009

UI grant will provide outreach to immigrants in Iowa, Nebraska

Many immigrants are drawn to the Midwest for the same reasons that anyone moves to the heartland: job opportunities, the strong educational system and the high quality of life.

However, new immigrant workers are too often vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation or unsafe working conditions, according to Amy Weismann, University of Iowa Center for Human Rights deputy director.

The U.S. Department of Justice has awarded a grant of $50,000 to the UI Center for Human Rights, the UI Labor Center and Nebraska Appleseed for Law in the Public Interest to extend significant outreach activities to immigrant workforces in Iowa and Nebraska. The yearlong project will also provide educational opportunities to the business community regarding immigration law and the rights of foreign-born workers.

The partners in this collaborative project will undertake an education campaign on the non-discrimination rights of foreign-born workers, primarily targeting workers as well as employers in the meatpacking and construction industries in Iowa and Nebraska, Weismann said.

"This collaboration will provide vital information on immigration and labor law and redress to immigrants and their employers, and in turn empower workers and their employers to create safer, non-discriminatory workplaces," Weismann said. "This is an important opportunity for the UI to continue a tradition of human rights education as well as contribute to the economic vitality of the state."

The project will consist of a number of interrelated activities including a series of on-site popular education workshops conducted by the UI Labor Center and grassroots outreach conducted by Nebraska Appleseed. Likely Iowa workshop sites will include Sioux City, Ottumwa, Waterloo, Davenport, Denison, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, and West Liberty.

Grassroots community outreach in Nebraska will target Columbus, Crete, Fremont, Grand Island, Lexington, Lincoln, Madison, Norfolk, Schuyler, South Sioux City, Wakefield, and Wayne.

The UICHR will also lead forums for employers in Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids. The project includes funding for the design and distribution of educational materials, instructional videos and public service announcements.

"We are excited to have support for delivering popular education that will directly engage workers in understanding their rights," said Labor Center Director Jennifer Sherer. "The goal of the project is to make sure that workers, labor organizations and employers all understand that for native-born and foreign-born alike, employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship, immigration status or national origin is illegal."

This project is especially important, Weismann said, because immigrant populations in Iowa and Nebraska are increasing at rates that exceed national averages. For example, from 2000 to 2006 Iowa's foreign-born population increased 28.9 percent while Nebraska's increased 35 percent.

"Significant Midwestern industries continue to benefit substantially from immigrants' contributions to the labor force," Sherer said. "In turn, studies show that immigrants are contributing to the vitality of local economies across Iowa and Nebraska. As these trends continue, we must guard against exploitation and ensure that newcomers are successfully integrated into the workforce by becoming fully familiar with federal laws and rights."

The UI Center for Human Rights is based within UI International Programs. For more information, contact Weismann at 319-335-0483 or

The UI Labor Center is a unit of the Division of Continuing Education at the University of Iowa.  For more information, contact Sherer at 319-335-4144 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Amy Weismann, UI Center for Human Rights, 319-335-0483,; Jennifer Sherer, UI Labor Center, 319-335-4144,; or Lois J. Gray, 319-384-0077;