Advocates say immigrants bring economic prosperity in Iowa


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Local and statewide immigrants' rights advocates said a part of Iowa's future may depend on immigration.

"The only real growth of population in Iowa has been thanks to immigrants and refugees," said Sandra Sanchez, the director for the Immigrant Voices Program for the American Friends Service Committee.

Last month, the Pew Hispanic Center released a study showing Mexico to United States net migration levels — for legal and illegal immigrants — have stopped increasing and may have reversed. The center estimated Iowa has 55,000 to 85,000 undocumented immigrants of various backgrounds.

"We need people who will take positions in jobs, leadership, government," Sanchez said. "If we don't have that with immigrants, we will have a gap, an empty vacuum of both leadership and unable workers."

Sanchez said a majority of Iowa immigrants are Mexican.

Rep. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola — who supports a state law that would mimic Arizona's anti-illegal immigrant law — said he's OK with immigrants as long as they are legal.

"There are studies that show [illegal immigration] is a net loss cost," he said noting medical, educational, and child services are used by undocumented individuals. "[For] all the typical things the state provides, we would save millions and billions of dollars."

But advocates agreed communities need to make all people regardless of documentation feel welcome.

" 'What will [Iowa's] needs be in the future' is what we need to do with immigration in the future," said Lori Chesser, the head of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition. "In Iowa, we need to look at where will our workers come from."

And finding ways to reach out to immigrants is a good start, she said.

"[Getting local police] to know the immigrant communities to create mutual trust and understanding," she said. "City Council members meeting with immigrant communities … and the Chamber of Commerce reaching out to immigrant-owned businesses to include them in programs or committees — this helps set the tone."

Iowa City city councilors said they are aware of immigration concerns raised within the community.

"I am aware that a committee consultation of religious communities is working on this topic and that they will soon be submitting a proposal to the City Council," Councilor Jim Throgmorton said, noting this is a follow-up from the Human Rights Commission proposal last fall. "I look forward to reading about it. It's an important topic and deserves our consideration.

Throgmorton said he believes the proposal will be brought to City Council in the next three to four weeks.

Father Rudolph Juarez of St. Patrick Church, 4330 St. Patrick Drive, has advocated locally for reducing anti-immigrant sentiment, and he introduced a Sanctuary City proposal in 2010.

"I don't know if Iowa City is any different from any city in Iowa," he said, noting the city's progressive past.

Iowa City officials have not yet taken a stance on the proposal.

Chesser said other countries, such as Japan, are seeing increasingly older populations because of low birth rates, which immigration could balance as it does in the United States.

"Really, to fix the problem, we have to work at the federal level," she said. "In the long term, [Iowa is] going to be hurt by the failure to broaden immigration categories."

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