Immigration and Migration Dialogue in Iowa

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immigration_and_migration_dialoquePanelists with experience and expertise in various sectors of immigration and migration came together to discuss common misconceptions and realities in the Cedar Rapids area as well as the entire state of Iowa.    The conference organized by Diversity Focus was held on April 27, 2007 and dealt with the economy, community initiatives, responsibilities of the city and state and human rights.    The first session dealt with the economy and included Dr. Mark Grey, director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration, Nancy Quelhorst, president of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, Kay Halbran and Ken Anderson, president of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce. The panel agreed that Iowa’s workforce is aging and that the workforce needed to be replaced.    Anderson spoke on the controversy caused by
billboard ad in Spanish that bothered some residents simply because it was not in English and also spoke about the recent raids in Marshalltown.    “We have to build one community,” he said. “From an economic perspective, jobs are there and almost every bank and grocery store will have bilingual service.”    The second session dealt with community initiatives. Juan Garcia, the bilingual outreach representative of the Iowa Student Loan College Planning Center, Dr. Michele Yehieli, associate professor in the division of health promotion and education at the University of Northern Iowa, Jesse Martinez, the bilingual temporary placement counselor with Advance Services, Inc. and Father Nils Hernandez were the speakers.    Juan Garcia talked about qualified students who can’t go to college without proper documentation but mentioned that there are scholarships for undocumented immigrants.    Dr. Michelle Yehieli spoke on the language, linguistic, and cultural barriers for many immigrants.    “The immigrant population is relatively young,” she said. “But 50 percent don’t have health insurance.”    The third panel brought about heated exchanges between Dr. Mark Grey and Mayor John B. Nieland of Marion, Iowa. Linda Langston, Linn County Supervisor was also present.
Mayor Nieland said that his city can’t compete with underbid competition and thus wanted to hire a police officer who would make sure no workers were being hired at a low cost. The police officer would receive training from ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement).
“It’s the only way to help my citizens prove (legal) status,” he said.
Grey countered by saying that the press is misinforming the public on the immigration issue and stated that 20 percent will always be in favor and 20 percent will always be against the immigration issue.
“What I’m looking for is the middle 60 percent to sway to my side,” he said. “If no meaningful legislation is passed by August, it won’t be here till next year.”
The fourth and last panel dealt with human rights. Dr. Christopher Rossi, public international law instructor, Miryam Antunez de Mayolo, immigration attorney, Dr. Paul Retish, special education teacher at the University of Iowa, and Kate Karacay, co-director of the Iowa United Nations Association at the University of Iowa formed the panel.
The issue of English being the official language of Iowa was also discussed.
“The state of Iowa is not teaching languages anymore,” Dr. Paul Retish said. “We’re not making accommodations to a much broader, diverse, representation.”

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