Guest Columnist

Congress must act to protect Iowa Dreamers

MPN photo by Karyn Spory

Dozens of Mt. Pleasant locals and people from across Iowa gathered on the lawn of the Henry Co
MPN photo by Karyn Spory Dozens of Mt. Pleasant locals and people from across Iowa gathered on the lawn of the Henry County Courthouse Thursday, May 10. The gathering was to protest the arrest of 32 men from MPC Enterprises by immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday morning.

On June 18, the Supreme Court struck down President Donald Trump’s attempt to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While this was a positive step, the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients, often referred to as Dreamers, in the U.S. need permanent protection from deportation so they can live and work legally in the U.S. The Administration has indicated it will now take a different approach to end the program. Only Congress has the power to permanently protect Dreamers and they must act now.

While Dreamers are technically immigrants, they’ve been raised from early childhood as Americans. They’ve gone to schools here, are raising their families here, and work and pay taxes here.

Aside from the moral reasons to support these individuals from deportation from the only country they’ve ever known, there’s also strong economic reasons. This is more important than ever in our current economic recovery efforts. The truth is Dreamers are one of Iowa’s biggest assets and we need them now more than ever as we work to rebuild our economy.

Cedar Rapids immigrants’ financial footprint, success stories showcased

Iowa has about 4,300 Dreamers, all of whom were brought to this country as young children and have grown up speaking English and attending American schools. According to New American Economy, those young people are now important contributors to Iowa’s economy, generating $87.8 million in household income and paying $19 million in federal, state and local taxes.

Dreamers are especially important here in Cedar Rapids as we face serious population decline. Immigrants accounted for 47.1% of total population growth in Cedar Rapids between 2012 and 2017, according to research from New American Economy. Immigrants, including Dreamers, have helped preserve roles from manufacturing to food supply and health care.

Dreamers also bring the hard-to-find technical know-how that powers our regional economy. More than four-fifths of Dreamers have attended at least some college, and many are already highly trained professionals. 43% percent of Dreamer students pursuing advanced degrees having an undergraduate degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM). Among Dreamer graduate students with a STEM undergraduate degree, 46% have a degree in a health care-related field. Now is not the time to turn away skilled workers as we look toward our economic rebound.

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The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance is a non-partisan organization — we work with all elected officials to advocate for economic growth. I have years of experience in one of the most notoriously contentious cities in the U.S. — Washington, D.C. — first as a staffer for Rep. Jim Nussle and then in the George W. Bush White House. I’m here to say immigration wasn’t always a hyperpartisan issue, and it doesn’t need to be now. Every American citizen has roots in immigration. We should do all we can to hold on to our principles of ensuring immigrant populations are welcome in our communities, have the ability to work in our communities to meet our workforce needs, and are encouraged to participate in American innovation and entrepreneurship that helps fuel economic growth.

Our region has been rocked on its heels by the coronavirus pandemic. We’ll forge ahead on recovery, but it won’t be easy. We’ll need all the help — and all the energetic, contributing young workers — that we can get. Join us in urging Congress to pass permanent protection for our Dreamer neighbors, friends and co-workers.

Barbra Solberg is the public policy strategist for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

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