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Trump is wrong to say we're 'full.' Across Iowa and rural America, we need immigrants.  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — When you drive around Northwest Iowa, it won’t take long for you to find a “For Hire” sign. My state has a  2.4% unemployment rate. One of the biggest limits to growth in our Iowa economy is simply that we don’t have enough workers. So when President Donald Trump told prospective immigrants the other day that “our country is full,” I don’t see that. To me, it sounds like a wealthy New Yorker now living in the bubble of Washington, D.C., who hasn’t spent a lot of time in America’s heartland.

I look at this statement through my Midwestern lens, specifically Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. The district is my home and it’s where, in the 2018 election cycle, I drove 35,000 miles in my personal vehicle and 24,000 miles in my campaign RV, “Sioux City Sue,” in my bid for Congress.

This is a district represented by one of the most anti-immigrant members of Congress, Steve King. It’s also home to Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, who often talks about the importance of immigrants to his hometown of Storm Lake. He even wrote a book about it. If you visit the area and talk to people, you'll probably find that more of them share Cullen’s beliefs on the matter than King’s.

Of the 39 counties that make up the district, only three are growing. Story County is doing well because Ames, along with being the home of Iowa State University, is part of the booming corridor with Des Moines. Dickinson County is growing because the Iowa Great Lakes region is a popular destination, often called “the Hamptons of Iowa.” Sioux County is growing because it has jobs that keep people's children around and brings in immigrants to help build its economy.

Then, you have Pocahontas County. It has been declining in population so fast that at this rate, the county will be depopulated by 2050. There is one high school in the entire county. I have even attended a meeting where residents were worried about keeping the one ambulance the county has.

Iowa’s economy relies on immigrants who often work in our agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries. Iowa's economy now depends on its estimated 96,000 immigrant workers. It’s no secret that our district and our state are shrinking in population. In 1968, Iowa had seven congressional districts. Now, we have just four.

In the past two years, I have had a front row seat of seeing the disconnect between Washington and day-to-day life in Iowa. I saw it last week at the Heartland Forum, where 500 Midwesterners were eager to hear visions from Democratic presidential hopefuls on how to improve rural Americans’ lives. A lot of the media and interest-group “out-of-towners” were focused on specific issues, such as esoteric banking regulations, that tend not to be part of the conversations many of us have while drinking our morning coffee together.

When I first launched my campaign, I was connected to a friend of a friend who is a successful campaign consultant out of Washington. The consultant told me to stay away from immigration because it’s not a winning issue in Iowa. However, during my first 39-county tour, I stopped by hundreds of local Main Street businesses to ask them about what they think needs improving. Outside of health care, immigration and finding a solution to having a workforce was at the top of their list of concerns.

In Greene County in 2017, I was told the grain elevator needed about 40 seasonal workers to help with the fall harvest. Those hiring were unable to find even one U.S. citizen to apply for the job. When I used that on the campaign trail, I saw a lot of head nodding, and I heard similar stories in small towns across the district.

In Sioux City and in Eagle Grove, two new pork plants have opened. The executives of these companies were clear that there wasn’t enough labor in the area to support the plants and that they would need to bring in an immigrant workforce. It took more than a year before the one in Sioux City was able to start a second shift.

The reality is that there is a lack of vision from our elected officials in Washington to help revive rural areas suffering from depopulation. I agree with Matt Hildreth, chairman of RuralOrganizing.org, that in rural America we need to increase wages, decrease daily expenses and defend the rural way of life.

 

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