Immigrating to the United States is a complicated process, and many American-born citizens have no idea of all the components involved. Many in Muscatine probably have no idea there is a place right in town that specifically works to assist immigrants.
“The Diversity Service Center of Iowa (DSCI) is recognized nationally and has received staff accreditation by the Board of Immigration Appeals to assist the public with their immigration needs. Through the Educational Outreach Program, staff provide consultations on immigration issues, perform case investigations, prepare immigration forms, and represent constituents before immigration offices,” said Rosa Mendoza of DSCI.
At DSCI, they focus on guiding individuals through the process of legalization by assisting them from the beginning till the end of the process and serving individuals from eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Mendoza said, “The most a family has traveled for our services was a little over seven hours from the state of Indiana. A few types of cases we assist with are family petitions, citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), renewal of employment authorization card, renewal of legal permanent resident card, adjustment of status,” travel documents, waivers, and more.
DSCI also provides a Minority Senior Citizen Program which includes interpretation, translation, case management, home visits, and a bi-monthly meal site with free transportation to activities to senior citizens ages 60+ residing in Muscatine. Staff are fluent in English and Spanish and serve as liaisons between seniors and local and state agencies as seniors seek additional benefits.
“Staff perform an assessment to evaluate the needs of the senior and then make referrals to local and state agencies and assist seniors by filling out the proper forms required for benefits. The staff works closely with Social Security Administration, Department of Human Services, Muscatine Community Services, Milestones Area Agency on Aging, Senior Resources, local clinics, and pharmacies. Seniors who participate in the program gain knowledge on resources available to them, overcome language barriers through interpretation services, receive information on relevant health issues, improve their health and living conditions through home visits and case management services, and receive support and gain self-esteem through interaction and socialization with other seniors at meal sites,” said Mendoza.
Besides immigrants and refugees, many others can look to DSCI for help for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who wish to petition for family members, individuals needing to renew their immigration documents, civic groups seeking to learn about immigration in general, or human resource staff with questions on immigration documentation.
DSCI came out of the Multicultural Center, which was part of the Muscatine Center for Social Action. In 2001, Mendoza, who coordinated the program, decided that DSCI should become its own nonprofit. DSCI opened their doors March 1, 2001, with a 501(c)(3) status.
Mendoza said, “The Educational Outreach Program that provides immigration services was implemented in October of 1994. During that time, there was an increase of Latino population throughout the state of Iowa due to the meat packing industry. Individuals were visiting the Multicultural Center and requesting immigration services. The advisory committee saw the need and addressed the issue by connecting with an immigration attorney of Catholic Charities in New York. This was how the Educational Outreach program was implemented and since then has assisted over 3,600 families with their immigration needs.”
In 1997, Generations Area Agency on Aging of Davenport contacted the Multicultural Center looking to coordinate a meal site once a month. The Davenport location had received state funds specifically for Minority Senior Citizens under the Old Americans Act and wished to reach out to the minority population in Muscatine. “After coordinating a meal site for a few months, Generations AAA came back with additional funds for case management, and this was how the Minority Senior Citizens Program was implemented. Generations Area Agency on Aging is now called Milestone Area Agency on Aging, which is one of the program supporters,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza hopes their organization can educate the public and negate some of the stigma behind immigration. “Muscatine needs to know that when DSCI helps an individual through legalization, they are able to receive a Social Security number, driver’s license, employment, open a bank account, are able to apply for a mortgage/car loan, purchase car/home/health insurance. This adds to the economic development of our community. Through our services, individuals are able to gain financial stability and peace of mind,” said Mendoza.
DSCI has served individuals from 26 different nationalities. They are one of 11 centers in the state of Iowa to receive recognition and staff accreditation by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
In regard to recent legislation that could change Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Mendoza said, “Whatever happens with immigration policies affects the future of DSCI. Many of the DACA recipients that we have assisted were brought to the USA as infants. They don’t know any other culture but the American culture. They have studied and worked in the USA the majority of their life. It is now up to Congress to make a decision on March 5, 2018, as to the future of DACA recipients. The Dream Act of 2017 is a bipartisan bill that has been introduced that would provide a direct path to citizenship for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status applicants, high school graduates, college attendees, or those in a military program.”
The staff at DSCI welcomes questions from the community regarding immigration and their services. They hope those who need their services will reach out to them for help. Their phone number is (563) 264-8883 and they are located at 1514 Isett Avenue, Suite 2, in Muscatine.