In 1979, testifying before Congress, Gov. Robert Ray spoke about a program he created that helped thousands of refugees from Vietnam resettle in Iowa. “I saw that we really only had two choices,” Ray said. “We could either turn our backs as countless others suffered and died, or we could extend a hand to help, and in so doing prevent tragic loss of innocent lives.”
The moral imperative Ray lays out so clearly has been lost in the political morass of the Trump administration.
This week, The Gazette’s Thomas Friestad reported on the devastating effects of Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy is having on Iowa families, who are being held in detention centers, where they are starved and forced to sleep on floors, only to arrive in Iowa and have their families ripped apart.
On Nov. 27, NPR reported that asylum-seekers on the border are being held in squalid camps and are desperate for help. One parent, after fleeing his native Honduras to escape violence, came to a camp only to watch his children contract pneumonia and bronchitis from sleeping in the cold and not receiving medical help.
Under the president’s plan called “Remain in Mexico” asylum-seekers must stay in camps in Mexico for six months, while awaiting a legal review of their case. But the courts are packed, the waits are long, and almost all the asylum claims are being rejected.
The policies also are hurting Iowa’s economy. A recent study by the bipartisan group New American Economy showed that in 2017 immigrants in Linn County alone paid $26.1 million in state and local taxes and were less likely to be on welfare and Medicare than American-born citizens.
Iowa is in an economic crisis — struggling to hire and keep workers here. Small towns are dying and our population is aging.
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Iowa also is in a moral crisis — once a state of radical welcome and openness, a state where our governor was a moral leader, who worked to bring in refugees and help them find a better life, we’ve become complacent. U.S. Rep. Steve King goes to the border and mocks the reports of the horrifying conditions by saying he’s drinking the toilet water at a camp.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has called out the Trump administration’s family separation policy, but her words are empty. Her actions have been to sign in laws that support the enforcement of the very policies that rip families in Iowa apart. Reynolds — and all lawmakers — must do better.
In the 1970s, when Ray saw the devastation of war and the needs of so many immigrants, he did something. He worked with the president to help people in need find their American dream here in Iowa.
This decade poses the same moral imperative for Iowa: We can turn our backs as countless others suffer and die, or we can extend a hand to help, and in so doing prevent tragic loss of innocent lives.
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