Iowa Governor Defies Feds to Scare Migrants and Endanger Kids

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The latest instance of “Iowa Nice” as practiced by Gov. Kim Reynolds includes empowering the police in her state to arrest undocumented immigrants.

She thereby makes Iowa a place for immigrants to avoid when it is in the midst of an ongoing labor shortage.

Even if you were a completely legal immigrant in the county, why would you seek to settle in a state when you have to worry about becoming fair game to any cop who pulls you over?

Or, if you are an immigrant already working in Iowa, why would you stay if something better arose in an actually nice state?

The Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice has denounced the new law as a “ridiculous stunt” during an election year “in order to perpetuate partisan campaign rhetoric, drive fear in immigrant communities and mobilize voters using fear and anti-immigrant sentiment.”

And Reynolds pulled this stunt as the 2024 report of the Iowa Business Council makes clear one of its biggest worries.

“Iowa’s workforce constraints continue to be a top strategic concern,” the report said.

Imagine how Reynolds’ description of the measure sounds to an immigrant deciding where to join the workforce and build a better life: “This bill gives Iowa law enforcement the power to do what [Joe Biden] is unwilling to do.”

Legal Immigrants in Texas Should Be Worried, Too

An immigrant deemed by Iowa to have entered the state illegally will face a prison term of between two and five years. State judges will be allowed to order deportations. Immigrants will then either be placed aboard international flights or transported to the Mexican or Canadian border. Any immigrant who balks will face felony charges.

The new Iowa law was modeled on one in Texas that has been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and numerous civil rights organizations. A court decision there will also likely determine how it goes in Iowa.

Meanwhile, Reynolds is deploying 100 Iowa National Guard and public safety officers to the Texas border, 1,000 miles away, as a way of dissing President Biden, saying she is taking action because he has not. She is shamelessly paying for this silly show of farce with funds from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan—which is delivering a record amount of direct federal aid to local governments.

The token troop deployment is even sillier because Reynolds did the same thing in 2022. The Des Moines Register suggested in an editorial something useful the troops could do in light of a shortage of workers back home: “Perhaps they could serve our state better by bringing some new Iowans home with them.”

Reynolds sought a partial remedy to the labor crunch two years ago by forcing the unemployed to go back to work earlier. She cut unemployment benefits from the maximum of 26 weeks offered by most states to just 16 weeks. And after 8 weeks, the recipient was required to take any job that offered 60 percent or more of the previous wages.

Reynolds also sought to add to the workforce by lowering the minimum age and expanding the maximum hours for child labor. Children as young as 14 would be allowed to work in industrial laundries and meat coolers, where they had been previously barred. Sixteen-year-olds would be allowed to perform hazardous work—including power machine operation, demolition, roofing, and excavation—where federal law sets a minimum age of 18. Kids who are 16 and older could work as many hours as adults.

“In Iowa, we understand there is dignity in work and we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic,” Reynolds told the press, as if she were not just trying to fill jobs with youngsters that could be filled by grown immigrants if there were a sane immigration policy.

In late February, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against a janitorial service, charging among other things that it had hired children as young as 14 to work in an Iowa slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant, cleaning “meat and bone-cutting saws, head splitters, jaw pullers and skinning equipment.” The lawsuit notes that one young worker wore a T-shirt reading “Class of 2025 South Sioux City High School” and others had “pink and purple sparkly backpacks.”

A labor investigator reported that a 14-year-old identified only as Minor Child A “routinely started work at 10:45 p.m. on nights when school was in session. Additionally, Minor Child A worked “over three hours, typically seven to eight hours, and worked more than 18 hours in a week, typically at least 32, and as many as 54 hours in a week, when school was in session.”

No words of outrage or remorse came from Reynolds. She was too busy with political stunts about Biden’s failure at the border.

If Reynolds was really interested in addressing the immigration crisis and her state’s labor shortage, she would seek to have her fellow Republicans join her in clamoring for more immigration courts, more asylum officers, more bed space.

According to a database maintained by Syracuse University, there was a backlog on Friday of 3,4387,990 cases. Of those, 1,169,796 involved asylum seekers, who can wait as long as 10 years for a hearing.

As noted immigration attorney Ben Osorio sees it, the whole immigration system is in critical need of an overhaul. And nothing is being done because the opposing political parties cannot overcome their differences.

“Nobody has any incentive to fix it because you can’t give the other side a win,” he said.

He reported that some 40 percent of the asylum petitions are granted. That would mean 467,918 completely legal immigrants. If the backlog were cleared. Some of them might even want to go to Iowa, where the labor shortage means there are plenty of jobs. Reynold’s army could even bring them there.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

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