Staff Columnist

Immigrants taking our jobs? Iowa should hope so

Republicans and Democrats prescribing wrong remedy for workforce woes

A U.S. flag is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
A U.S. flag is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

The fearful refrain of anti-immigration warriors has been the same for years — “They’re coming to take our jobs.”

Here in Iowa, we ought to be begging immigrants to do just that.

For much of our history, politicians and voters have understood the enormous economic and social value of immigration. Unfortunately, some of today’s conservatives have exchanged basic economic literacy for an ugly form of identity politics.

Iowa policymakers mostly agree our state’s greatest challenge in the coming years is finding enough skilled workers to fill new jobs, but both Republicans and Democrats are prescribing the wrong remedies. Lawmakers unanimously approved a bill this year to provide millions in additional funds for job training, known as “Future Ready Iowa.”

All the job training programs in the world don’t matter if we don’t have enough humans to undergo that training. That’s a well-documented problem which politicians seem to be ignoring.

A Wall Street Journal headline earlier this year read, “Iowa’s Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not Enough People.” Similarly, a New York Times story from two years ago led with, “In Iowa, Jobs Are Plentiful but Workers Are Not.”

Yet government leaders in Des Moines and Washington, D.C. have taken steps to discourage immigration.

Here in Iowa, lawmakers this year passed a bill pressuring local governments to participate in federal immigration enforcement operations. Civil liberties and public safety advocates alike say that will have a chilling effect among immigrants, fearful of the consequences if they report unrelated crimes.

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Another example is President Donald Trump trying to end protection for so-called Dreamers, or recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Congress and the president have failed to work out a solution to offer those brought to the country as children legal status.

Even the policymakers who agree on the need for a DACA fix often couple that with calls for stricter border security, which mostly is a waste of time and money.

“While I do not support giving them citizenship, we must identify and pursue a measured approach that addresses their unique situation, but also respects the importance of our immigration laws and discourages future illegal immigration,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in a statement released last year.

Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, co-sponsored an amendment this year to fund Trump’s border security plans and also create a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

“Our amendment provides a generous and permanent solution for up to 1.8 million DACA or DACA-eligible recipients. Our plan contains an earned path to citizenship for these young people,” Grassley said during Senate proceedings in February.

Influential campaign financiers David and Charles Koch — who have made significant business and political investments in Iowa — have signaled they plan to pressure lawmakers on immigration policy ahead of this November’s elections. That includes a new advertising campaign by the Koch-backed activist group Libre Initiative this month, calling on Congress to find a way to offer legal status to DACA recipients.

“The Dreamers are contributing to our economy and our communities. They are students, workers, and members of our Armed Services. It’s time to correct the injustice that is keeping them in legal limbo,” Libre Initiative President Daniel Garza said in a news release earlier this month.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, pre-eminent leftist Sen. Bernie Sanders called open borders “a Koch brothers proposal” during an interview with left-leaning news outlet Vox. Sanders’ condemnation of immigrant workers should be all the evidence capitalists need to support more immigration.

If anyone can change the Republican line on immigration, it may be the Koch brothers.

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Koch Industries PAC made more than $40,000 in contributions to Iowa political campaigns in 2015 and 2016, according to documents filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Other Koch-funded groups, like Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, have made significant impacts on Iowa policymaking through lobbying.

Immigrants make up 4.3 percent of Iowa’s population, and 5.4 percent of the state’s labor force, according to a 2014 analysis by the left-leaning Iowa Policy Project. Some sectors rely more heavily on immigrant labor, like more than half of meat cutters, 19 percent of school instructors 16 percent of software developers working in Iowa.

Iowans are getting older, our small towns are shrinking and our economy is transforming. If we hope to thrive as a state for another 172 years, we must open our hearts and our borders.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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