Seeking real leadership on immigration

America has a Washington, D.C., problem. 

We’re supposed to have legislators there, but instead, we have a bunch of politicians — people who are more interested in making headlines than solving problems. 

Rep. Steve King exemplifies the worst part of this. 

A career politician who has done nothing for 16 years, but when tragedy strikes, he’s quick to finger point and grandstand, and tries to exploit personal tragedy for political gain by blaming the other side. 

Because of our D.C. problem, we have an immigration problem.

Federally, we haven’t had significant immigration reform since 1986. Currently, there’s an estimated 11 million to 14 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. — over three times the number of people living in Iowa.

Here are the facts: Iowa’s economy, particularly in the 4th Congressional District, relies on immigrants who work in our agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries. Iowa’s current economy depends on its estimated 84,000 immigrant workers. 

Heck, it’s not unreasonable to think that King Construction has hired an undocumented immigrant at some point.

It’s no secret that my district is shrinking in population. In 1968, Iowa had seven congressional districts. Now, we have just four. 

I recently had my 20-year high school reunion. It was great hearing all the things my classmates are doing, but the majority of them are not doing these things in Sioux City, where we all grew up. I hear similar stories in town after town in all 39 counties of our district.

In Greene County last fall, I was told the grain elevator needed around 40 seasonal workers to help with the harvest. They were unable to find even one U.S. citizen to apply for the job. 

I hear these stories in small towns across the district too.

In my hometown of Sioux City, we opened up a new pork plant last fall. The executives were clear when they opened that there wasn’t enough labor in the area to support the plant and that they would need to bring in an immigrant workforce. 

It will be more than a year before they will finally be able to start a second shift. 

At a time when so many small towns in Iowa are shrinking, some towns like Denison and Storm Lake that have embraced immigrants are seeing growth.

So where do we go from here? We all agree that we absolutely need to have secure borders and that violent crime will never be welcome in our communities. At the same time, our economy in the 4th District cannot grow when we don’t have the labor force to match our needs.

These are the realities that we have to deal with. 

I am for securing our borders. I am for an updated visa program that matches our modern economic needs and allows for a traceable worker program. We need a plan that would require undocumented people to pass a background check, pay back taxes and get to the back of the line before they could be considered for legal status. 

There should be a pathway to residency and/or citizenship for those folks who want to earn  the title of “American.”

Maybe if Rep. King were actually an effective advocate for Iowa, we would have an immigrant visa system that would focus on our need for yearlong workers, not just the seasonal ones Congress favors for the East and West coasts. Maybe he could support a system that brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they don’t live in fear and can freely work with law enforcement to protect our communities. But he hasn’t.

Steve King says, “Diversity is not our strength,” but it’s the people from all over the world that came together to build America that actually made this country great. People like my ancestors of Norwegian/Dutch/German/Danish descent. People like Steve King’s ancestors.

 But if we want to continue to grow as a nation, we need to fix our broken immigration system. To do that, America doesn’t need more politicians, we need legislators that actually work together to get things done. 

In my baseball playing days, I didn’t care if my shortstop was from Delaware, Puerto Rico or Texas. I didn’t care who my left fielder voted for in the last election. We worked our tails off for the common goal. 

That’s the mentality Washington, D.C., needs to rediscover.

J.D. Scholten is the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, challenging incumbent Steve King, R-Kiron.

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