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Waterloo Office To Assist Burmese Refugees To Stay Open

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WATERLOO, Iowa - As April 15 approaches, the deadline to file federal taxes looms for so many.

"Refugees have to taxes just file everybody else," said Ann Grove, lead case manager of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants office in Waterloo. "Every single year."

On Wednesday night, volunteers worked with a handful of newer residents in Waterloo who have escaped persecution in Myanmar on federal tax preparation. At least 1,200 Burmese refugees now call Waterloo home.

"We hope (the people attending) will be able to go out into the community right away, working with their friends and neighbors to help them be ready to do their taxes," said Grove.

In late February, Grove said the federal funding for the USCRI office to help Burmese refugees in Black Hawk County was running out. Yet, on Tuesday, the office announced the USCRI's leadership has chosen to keep the office open on a part-time basis.

"It gives us an opportunity to continue providing for the immediate needs of clients who are in town," said Grove.

With the federal grant now expired, the office may have to depend on the continued involvement of volunteers.

Alicia Soppe is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and a Jesup native. She is working to help teach English and try and lower the language barrier.

"The language barrier is huge," said Soppe. "That's when we knew it was important to start the tutoring program."

While these residents are new to Waterloo, a large-scale wave of immigrants and refugees is nothing new for the city. In the late 1990s, Bosnians left their war-torn region for the United States, with thousands moving to the Cedar Valley.

"I remember, vividly, when they came," said Mayor Buck Clark, who was with the police force at that time. "We worked very hard to welcome them into the community and they have assimilated in here very well. They're a part of our population, a part of the fabric of our city. The Burmese will be no different."

The signs of their influence is becoming apparent throughout the city as the youngest people of Burmese descent are students in the city's schools and a downtown store, specializing in native items, has been thriving for years.

"People who have grown up here have a hard time figuring out how to prepare their taxes or what sort of problems to look out for," said Soppe. "Imagine coming from a country where you don't speak English at all."

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