Advocates say ‘anti-immigrant’ legislation would create barriers for legal residents

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Vanessa Marcano-Kelly speaks Feb. 7, 2024, at a rally organized by Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice at the Iowa Capitol. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch) | Vanessa Marcano-Kelly habla el 7 de febrero de 2024, en un mitin organizado por Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice en el Capitolio de Iowa. (Foto de Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Some of the Republican-proposed bills taking aim at undocumented immigration this legislative session would also make it harder for naturalized citizens and other legal residents to live and work in Iowa, members of a migrant advocacy group said Wednesday.

Members of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice rallied in the Capitol rotunda against four bills that speakers said target immigrants:

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Senate File 108 would require employers to use a federal system called E-Verify to check the immigration status of job applicants.

Vanessa Marcano-Kelly, chair of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice board, shared concerns as a naturalized citizen and small business owner about the E-Verify system.

“It’s really burdensome, it’s really inefficient. It takes a really long time. And it actually could keep out people who have documents to work, who have authorization to work,” she said.

“So for example, like I have been a citizen since 2019. And so if that system hasn’t been properly updated, I could come up as a temporary non-confirmation even though I’m literally a citizen now,” she said.

She said the legislation is an ineffective solution in search of a problem, “and the problem is, we don’t have enough workers.”

Backers of the legislation dispute the claim that the system is ineffective.

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House File 2112, which would expand the definition of human smuggling and also address background checks for public assistance.

Luis Gomez, who spoke at the rally, said he relied on his community for assistance during the 10 years he was undocumented before gaining legal status. He couldn’t drive, for example, so neighbors would give him rides. He said if the bill became law, driving an undocumented person to the doctor or to school could put someone at risk of a felony smuggling charge.

The bill includes an element of criminal intent, such as fleeing from police or hiding from authorities. But Gomez said as a soccer coach, he worries he could be at risk driving kids to practice or games unless he checks their immigration status.

House File 2128, which would require college students to show proof of citizenship to receive in-state tuition.

Cecilia Martinez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient who came to Iowa 26 years ago, said she graduated from an Iowa high school and university and she wants to stay in the state to work and contribute to her community. “The state is not making it easy for us to want to stay,” she said.

Advocates also criticized Senate File 2211, which would allow state law enforcement and judges to enforce federal immigration law and deport undocumented people. They said the bill, similar to a law in Texas, violates federal law.

Marcano-Kelly called on immigrants in Iowa and their allies to organize opposition to the legislation.

“These most recent bills destabilize Iowa’s workforce, disinvest in promising young people, create additional barriers for low-income families and threaten support networks for people who are seeking safety in Iowa,” she said.

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