It is anticipated Iowa's economy will add more than 200,000 jobs over the next decade. With nearly 40% of its workforce 45 years of age or older, Iowa needs workers.
It needs them at hard to find high-tech and skilled positions, it also needs them in lower wage positions that Iowans typically don't want to fill.It has been hard for the state to recruit workers and just as hard to stem the out migration of the youth. But the prospect of tapping an immigrant workforce has more than a few complications.
The image of immigration in Iowa is largely defined by federal raids on meatpacking plants in Marshalltown (Swift) and Postville (Agri-Processors)
The searches resulted in hundreds of workers charged with being the in country illegally and in some cases with identity theft.
Here-to-now there have been no charges issued against the employers, even though hundreds of workers at these facilities were working illegally and the employer would be in violation of the law for hiring them. And legal critics say the deportation of many of the workers has effectively quashed investigations of abuse at the Postville plant.
Despite the apparent need for the workers in select industries like meat packing, service and healthcare sectors, and construction there has been little movement in Washington or statehouses to devise programs that might accommodate the needs of employers, workers or the economy.
Teacher: “Fernando, Christian…”
For example this year there are thousands of students in U.S. schools who were brought here by their parents and who know no other home.
But, even modest proposals that would garner dividends from the public investment already made in their education have not passed.
Child: “Stone Fox was using the money…”
The so-called Dream Act’s federal version would have granted permanent resident status to graduates if they were to go to college or join the U.S. military. But the measure has stirred up a toxic response.
Candidate Christopher Reed: “We need to get the illegal immigrants that are here and send them back to where they came from… treating them like the lawbreakers that they are.”
An Iowa version of the Dream Act passed the Iowa House in 2004 unanimously, but wasn’t even considered by the Senate. The proposal remains a contentious campaign issue.
Candidate Christopher Reed: “My opponent voted for the 2004 Dream Act. We need to stop harboring and abetting these criminals.”
Given the rapid political denunciation that is released over relatively modest, some say humanitarian, proposals like the Dream Act, it seems doubtful that the next Congress or administration will be able to devise immigration policy that utilizes the pool of workers that exists south of the boarder.
For its part Iowa has unique circumstances. It has industries that demand a sizable workforce of unskilled labor. An estimated 6% of Iowa’s employment pool is undocumented. Legal or not, the disruption of this workforce has economic consequences for the state.