You’ve probably heard something on the news about the growing refugee and migrant caravan of Central Americans – mainly Hondurans and Guatemalans – making their way to the US-Mexico border. And if you haven’t, you soon will as it’s Republicans’ newest poster child for the looming midterm elections. Here’s what you need to know.

In the upcoming weeks, we’re going to update you on the caravan, breakdown the onslaught of conspiracy theories, and unpack the subtle – and not-so-subtle – racism that has been dominating our social media feeds and news cycles. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know.

What is a refugee and migrant caravan?

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied children and families crossing the US-Mexico border. These people are from the Northern part of Central America, mainly Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They’re fleeing drug-related violence, persecution and death threats, and extreme economic distress.

All of these families are seeking asylum.

Traditionally, asylum-seekers travel as a family unit. But the crisis in Central America has forced thousands of people into tough situations. For the safety of their children, many families became organized and made the decision to travel together in the hopes of protecting one another.What started off as less than 200 asylum-seekers has grown to more than 7,000 in just a few weeks. Check out a map of their journey so far. 

The journey to the US-Mexico border is no cake walk. It’s weeks of walking through dense jungles and barren deserts with limited food and water. But the elements are only one obstacle on their journey. People seeking asylum often encounter coyotes and traffickers who are quick to take the family’s possessions and money. If there are young girls or women, there a high chance they could be taken and sold into sex trafficking.

Families risk everything when they make the journey to the United States. This is not a decision people make lightly. And it’s exactly why thousands of people have chosen to migrate together – to survive.

Refugee vs. Migrant

The news coverage of the caravan has used a variety of terms when referring to the people within it. We’re not sure these journalists understand the difference between the labels of refugee or migrant. It’s important to note that there are distinguishable differences as they relate to the law and asylum.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a refugee is a person fleeing armed conflict while a migrant is a person who has chosen to move not because of a direct threat but due to indirect threats such as food insecurity, economic distress, or the pursuit of more opportunity.

This 7,000+ caravan is made up of both refugees and migrants. Each person has their own story and motivations for fleeing their home countries. But they all share a common goal – they want to live.

How do you seek asylum?

Seeking asylum is very difficult. The US system for asylum has intentional barriers in place that make the process nearly impossible to complete – and under the Trump administration, it’s become even worse.

First, a person must present themselves as an asylum-seeker. They must be either at the US-Mexico border, the US-Canadian border or within the United States in order to proceed. Then, the person must establish what is known as credible fear of persecution. The person must provide evidence that they have been persecuted or will be persecuted due to the following five criteria:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

In recent years, asylum seekers have been met with the political animosity towards immigrants. Border patrol agents are required by law to refer any asylum-seeker to an asylum agent who will conduct the credible fear interview. A Human Rights First report (May 2017) stated that hundreds of border agents were turning people away at the border and refusing to allow them the opportunity to plead their case.

If the person is lucky enough to get the approval of the asylum officer, they must then present their case to an immigration judge and prepare to argue in court against an experienced prosecutor. With a backlog of nearly 700,000 cases and only 350 immigration judges available to hear these cases, an asylum seeker will likely wait years for their day in court. Once they appear in court and plead their case, the likelihood of a judge approving their case is slim.

Now – set all of that aside – and remember that asylum-seekers must go through this entire process in English. While there may be some bilingual assistance along the way, most people have to fight for themselves without any help or knowledge of the language and immigration law. Only 14% of these cases actually obtain legal representation. 

If the grant for asylum is denied, the person is deported to their home country. Many asylum-seekers will make the journey to the border several times in their lifetime.

These asylum-seekers are organized.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to come out of the refugee and migrant caravan situation is the blatant racism and disregard for people of color. We’ve seen some subtle and then some not-so-subtle public displays of racism and xenophobia in the past two weeks. Unfortunately, we’ll probably continue to see more of that as we inch closer to the midterm elections.

But we want to dismantle these attacks and misinformation because enough is enough.

The most common myth we are seeing in the news is that this caravan is not organized. This assumption sheds some harsh light on how many people in the United States view poor people, especially poor brown or black people. White people cannot fathom a group of poor Central Americans having the intellectual capacity to organize the caravan, protect the members within the caravan, and make their way to the United States.

And so some news outlets have chosen to belittle what is arguably one of the most important visual displays of civil unrest and economic distress caused by US and international imperialism in their home countries. Check out this tweet from the Associated Press that has since been deleted due to its tone-deaf assessment of the caravan:

This callous analysis of the purpose of the caravan and the power of persecuted people has been a common theme among news outlets. Referring to a mass movement of people due to decades of corrupt politics and severe economic turmoil as a “ragtag army of the poor” perpetuates all the problems that prevent us from making progress on immigration reform and international relations.

This assumption could not be further from the truth.

This caravan is an example of collective action. It has a structure. It has leaders. It has rules. It’s a group of motivated and impacted people who are tired of being abused by the powers that be.

What’s more interesting to watch is the decision-making within the caravan. Along the way, the caravan has encountered several obstacles – mainly as they cross borders from one country to the next. At each obstacle the caravan has provided members with their options and allowed people to decide for themselves what they would like to do.

For example, Guatemalan and Mexican officials attempted to prevent the caravan from moving across the SW Mexico-Guatemala border on Saturday, October 21st. By show of hands, the caravan took a vote on whether or not they should continue onward to the United States. The majority voted to move on while 1,500 members chose to stay behind and presented themselves to Mexican authorities for asylum.

What will happen once the caravan reaches the US-Mexico border?

The reality is we’re not sure.

But we can speculate based on what we already know about the current situation at the border and from what Trump has alluded during his rallies this past week.

The current situation at the US-Mexico border has not improved since May when Trump issued a zero-tolerance policy and separated thousands of children from their parents. While US officials and border organizations are still working to reunite those separated families, many remain in limbo – living in tent camps with limited resources. The process for admitting asylum-seekers has been excruciatingly slow, with border officials only inspecting and interviewing a few families each day.

The lines to meet with an asylum officer are backed up in the thousands. When the caravan arrives, this problem will rapidly increase.

That is the best case scenario at this point.

Trump has alluded to using military force against the caravan while speaking with a news outlet this past Monday. He claimed that the caravan was “an assault on our country” and that he would send as many troops as possible to the border to stop the caravan. Given what we’ve seen from law enforcement when policing non-violent rallies and understanding that the military has a lot more weaponry in their arsenal, it’s concerning to us that the President would create that kind of environment where many, many innocent people could be hurt.

What’s next?

We’re going to continue monitoring the on-going events and update you all with our analysis. As the caravan approaches the US-Mexico border, we expect organizations on the ground will need support. We’ll let you know what are the best action steps you can take to help during this difficult situation.

In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter so you can stay in-the-know and get the latest updates from us!

We believe families belong together – not in cages or jails.

You asked for it – and we delivered! Today we officially launched a statewide toolkit designed to provide content, resources, materials, and strategy that will help local communities keep ICE out of Iowa.

Read the full toolkit here. 

Why a toolkit?

In June, we held a series of ‘Keep ICE Out of Iowa’ meetings across the state. Hundreds of you gathered together for in-depth discussions with national immigrant rights organizers about how everyday people could create safer communities for all while blocking ICE operations in our own neighborhoods.

We covered a lot of material during those discussions. Folks had a lot of great ideas – and many wanted to do more in their own towns. We created this toolkit to give you a starting point to organize in your own communities.

How was this toolkit created?

Iowa CCI and American Friends Service Committee spent the next two months reviewing feedback from these events and surveyed immigrant families in Central Iowa. We asked families to identify fears and concerns they had with living and working in Iowa. We also reviewed the anti-immigrant law Senate File 481 and projected potential issues that law would cause for immigrant families and people of color.

We took ALL of this information a began crafting local solutions that would address these problems, create safer and more welcoming communities, and most importantly – get ICE out of Iowa.

How do I use this toolkit?

This toolkit is intended to meet people where they are at in their communities. Some folks have strong connections with immigrant families and are ready to push elected officials for bold solutions while others may be just beginning to organize around immigrant rights. Either way, the information in this toolkit will guide you in the right direction.

In order to make the most of this guide, it’s up to you to take action and get the ball rolling. We’re here to help you along the way.

What information is in the toolkit?

This toolkit covers a wide range of topics from educational efforts like ‘Know Your Rights’ information and trainings to rapid response planning in preparation for potential ICE raids to organizing campaigns that call on elected officials to implement progressive policies and practices that benefit immigrant families.

Read the full toolkit here.

Want to get more involved?

Jess Mazour, Community Organizer, 515-282-0484,

Des Moines, IA. – The Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) legislative committee finalized their 2019 legislative priorities at their annual meeting last week.  The legislative recommendations include changes to Iowa’s factory farm permitting and tax systems.

Iowa CCI members are pointing to the action as a sign of growing support for a factory farm moratorium on new and expanding factory farms in Iowa.

The ISAC legislative proposal includes addressing the failure of the Master Matrix and making factory farms pay their fair share of taxes:

  • “As this subject continues to be of growing concern to some county boards of supervisors, ISAC strongly encourages that this [Master Matrix] review be conducted by 2020.”
  • “The result is that the construction of any new agricultural building adds zero net value to Iowa’s property tax base.  This situation is doubly problematic because large-scale livestock operations and grain facilities impose significant additional costs on counties, such as for road maintenance, without expanding the tax base to help pay for those costs.”

“It’s about time that ISAC recognizes that factory farms are harming Iowa counties – not helping them,” said Barb Kalbach, family farmer and CCI member from Dexter. “We’ve tried small tweaks to the Master Matrix, filing complaints about manure management plans, lobbying against tax exemptions, and the legislature is unwilling to act.”

“As an independent family farmer, I pay my fair share of taxes. My corn and soybean farming operation adds revenue and value to Adair County. Our current tax policies allow factory farms to skirt their fair share of taxes. That forces everyone in the county to make up the difference.” Added Kalbach.

Iowa CCI members have pointed out that factory farms are exempt from all kinds of taxes that independent family farmers aren’t exempted from.  Factory farm buildings add no new tax revenues to county coffers.  Manure pits get a tax break under the Pollution Control Tax Exemption.  Wholesale rates on water and electricity are obtained, and factory farms don’t pay sales tax on key inputs, like feed and energy.

The lack of county revenue from the factory farm industry has forced some counties to change their Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) formula – a local program to offset propoerty taxes.

“My roads are constantly being torn up by the dozens of daily semi-trucks driving past my house.  I’m afraid my daughters are going to get in an accident because of the status of the roads,” said Nick Schutt, CCI member and resident of Hardin County.

“Now the Hardin County Supervisors want to change our LOST formula. If implemented, property owners property taxes will increase so the county can keep up with road maintenance,”  added Schutt.

The Hardin County Supervisors have proposed changes to the LOST formula.  Right now 80% of LOST revenue in Hardin County is going to offset property taxes.  The proposed formula would change that to 40% for offsetting property taxes and 40% for maintenance, improvement, and construction of roads and bridges.

The Hardin County LOST formula change will be on the ballot in November.

Last year, CCI members gathered input from Iowans affected by factory farms across the state and filed rulemaking to strengthen the Master Matrix with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The DNR dismissed the entire rulemaking petition without considering changes to protect our air, water, land, and communities.

“We have already submitted our recommended Master Matrix changes to the DNR and the legislature.  They refuse to act.  That’s why we’re calling for a moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.  We can’t wait for little tweaks anymore.  We need to stop the expansion now,” said Emma Schmit, Iowa CCI member in Calhoun County.

As of today, CCI members and allies have successfully organized 23 counties to pass resolutions calling for a moratorium, local control, and/or stronger protections from the factory farm industry.


Click here to view the ISAC 2019 legislative proposals

All people — whether black, brown, immigrants, or lifelong Iowans — deserve dignity and respect. All people deserve to live without the fear of being stopped by the police solely because of the color of their skin.

But racial profiling happens far too often, and it has lasting and damaging consequences on our communities.

Watch this video of a July 15 traffic stop in Des Moines and add your name to the petition to end the DMPD’s practice of racial profiling.

It’s clear to us that the officer was determined to find a reason to arrest these young black men.

It’s easy to see how an unwarranted traffic stop like this could’ve easily escalated into violence or an unnecessary arrest.

We’re working to change that here in Des Moines, and create transparent avenues for individuals to hold our public servants accountable.

Sign the petition today to show your support for ending racial profiling in Des Moines!

August 15, 2018
Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, Community Organizer, 515.255.0800


Offending officer has a record of targeting the Black community, incident and data expose larger racial profiling problem within the Des Moines Police Department

Des Moines, IA– Newly released dash and body camera footage (more links below) shows racial profiling by two Des Moines police officers in a July 15 traffic stop. Two young African-American men were pulled over, handcuffed and accused of gun and drug possession. Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), a statewide, grassroots community organizing group, say this video and newly released data (links below) show a serious problem within the Des Moines Police Department that needs to be addressed.

“Racial profiling by police happens in Des Moines. This time it happened to my 21 year old son,” said Laural Clinton, mother of passenger, Jared Clinton, and an Iowa CCI member from Des Moines.

“When I watched the video I cried. It’s so easy to see how an unwarranted traffic stop like this could’ve easily turned my son into another Philando Castile, or given him a police record.

It’s clear that Officer Thies was determined to find a reason to arrest these young men who were just enjoying their Sunday evening like anyone else. No one should have to go through this. This will affect my son and Montray for years to come.

My question for Chief Wingert is how do you expect my kids to trust the police after this? Is this the type of policing tactics you teach? Who does this protect in our community? We can’t let this happen again. It’s time Chief Wingert steps up and does the right thing.”

The video shows officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann pulling over a car being driven by Montray Little, 23 from Des Moines, accompanied by passenger Jared Clinton, 21 of Des Moines.  Thies immediately implied the car was stolen and accused Little and Clinton of having weapons and “being able to see [marijuana] shake” in the car. Montray Little calmly denied the accusations. Officer Thies proceeded to handcuff Montray and put him in the back of the cop car while he performed a warrantless search of the car. When Thies found nothing, the video shows Thies trying to coerce Montray into admitting he had smoked marijuana or was around someone smoking marijuana anyway, which Montray denied again. Officer Heinemann’s video shows her interacting with the passenger, Jared Clinton, seemingly to distract Jared from the search and what was happening with Montray.

 “We can’t let this style of policing continue,” said Bridget Fagan-Reidburn an organizer with Iowa CCI.

“Racial profiling can have lasting and devastating impacts on individuals and our communities – from mental trauma, to being incarcerated and thrown into our judicial system, to economic impacts such as court and legal fees and loss of employment. We need a policing system that builds relationships with our communities, not tears them apart.”

2017 data from the DOT, State of Iowa Data Warehouse (TRAxS records) and the booking records from the Polk County Sheriff only reinforces the impacts of racial profiling. Attached data shows jarring disparities of traffic stops and arrests in Des Moines.

The 2017 data also shows how Thies has a history of targeting young, Black males. For example: in 2017, Thies charged 26 Black people and 5 White people with “interference with official acts”. Additionally, 49% of the people Officer Thies booked in 2017 were Black.

Iowa CCI has collected dozens of stories of racial profiling by police over the last three years and has assisted individuals to file official complaints with the DMPD’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS). In the last 12 months, Iowa CCI has helped two other young Black males file complaints of racial profiling and aggressive treatment by Officer Kyle Thies. Both complaints were deemed “unfounded” by the OPS.

This incident comes as Iowa CCI is hosting a series of “Skin Color is Not Reasonable Suspicion” community meetings with the Black community and two Des Moines City Council members, Josh Mandelbaum and Connie Boesen (Councilwoman Linda Westergaard has committed to attend the final meeting). There have been over 100 Des Moines residents in attendance at each of the first two meetings held June 28 and July 25. The purpose of the meeting series is to bridge the gap between city officials and the Black community and to work together to find solutions to our racial profiling problem in Des Moines. The final meeting with the Council and the Black community is on Thursday, September 6. We will propose three ordinances at our final meeting that would combat racial profiling.

We encourage anyone who has a racial profiling story to call Iowa CCI at 515-255-0800 and to RSVP to the final meeting with the three Des Moines City Council members on Thursday, September 6 at the Polk County Central Senior Center at 6:30 p.m.

For interview inquiries, contact Bridget Fagan-Reidburn.

To view the videos:



Add your name to hundred calling on DMPD and the City Council to end racial profiling – click here.


Join us for a critical moment of resistance in Des Moines on August 17!

Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions is coming to town to deliver an address at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judicial conference.

We’ll be there to unwelcome him and send the message that hateful values aren’t welcome in our state. This will be a peaceful, non-violent but noisy demonstration to show that Iowans stand in solidarity for a more just, fair, and inclusive country. Can you be there?

RSVP here! Stand up and fight back:

Can’t attend? Support the action with a donation: click here.

Why Sessions? Jeff Sessions is unfit to serve as the head of our Justice Department. Our U.S. Attorney General is charged with enforcing our nation’s laws without prejudice and a commitment to justice; and be an advocate for all people.

But Sessions has:

  • targeted 800,000 young people for deportation by rescinding DACA
  • reversed DOJ position that federal law protects transgender workers from discrimination
  • released the sweeping “License to Discriminate” guidance, outlining a pathway for discrimination against LGBT people, women and religious minorities
  • been the architect of the “zero tolerance policy” and family separations at the border
  • recently announced the Religious Freedom Task Force
  • encouraged federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for certain drug-related crimes
  • ramped up the racist war on drugs
  • redirected the Justice Department to continue to make use of private prison facilities, rather than phase out those contracts
  • a 30-year record of racial insensitivity, bias against immigrants and the LGBTQ community and hostility towards the protection of civil rights
  • waged an infamous prosecution against civil rights activists in the 1980s on phony charges of voter fraud is a staunch opponent of the Voting Rights Act

Together, we’ll stand against Sessions’ agenda to ramp up the war on voting rights, criminalize immigration, and uphold religious-based discrimination.

Friday, August 17 from 8:00 to 9:30 AM (Sessions is slated to speak at 9)

Vets Auditorium/Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center

We’ll have signs, or you can bring your own.

RSVP here! Stand up and fight back:

Can’t attend? Support the action with a donation: click here.

A strong turnout will demonstrate that Iowa’s fightback is powerful, show strong opposition to Trump in Iowa, and garner state and national press for the critical issues of racial justice, voter, and civil rights.