Let’s fix our immigration policy

CBJ Editorial

Hass Machlab, Naftaly Stramer, Pankaj Monga, and Tony Golobic – they are just a few of the region’s most distinguished and successful entrepreneurs.

They run Innovative Software Engineering in Coralville, Oasis Falafel in Iowa City, Channel Fusion in Hiawatha and GreatAmerica Financial Services in Cedar Rapids, respectively, and are responsible for hundreds of good paying jobs. They also happen to be immigrants.

Their entrepreneurial spirit combined with a recent report by the New American Economy (NAE), help illustrate how important immigrants are to our economy. The NAE report found that immigrants accounted for an amazing 47.1 percent of total population growth between 2012 and 2017.

This growth has been threatened by changes at the federal level in how our nation’s already muddled immigration laws are interpreted and enforced. We should be demanding that our federal legislators and the president quit politicizing immigration and open more lawful immigration opportunities, such as work visas, as well as entrepreneurial endeavors in order to stimulate more economic growth.

The NAE report, which was published in partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, highlights the impact that immigrants in Cedar Rapids have on their community, such as contributing $53.9 million in federal taxes and $26.1 million in state and local taxes.

“Cedar Rapids was built on a tradition of immigrant workers who created unique cultures and neighborhoods that remain today,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said in one news report. “We are eager to use this data to develop programs and initiatives to continue our city’s tradition of welcoming diversity, building on our strong and productive workforce, and enhancing our economy.”

Cedar Rapids was one of 14 communities selected nationally for the 2019 Gateways for Growth award to receive research from NAE and technical assistance from NAE and Welcoming America.

“A shortage of qualified workers consistently ranks as one of the top economic growth challenges facing the Midwest,” said David Connolly, City of Cedar Rapids Economic Development Specialist. “Participation in the Gateways for Growth Challenge is part of a long-term solution intended to help ensure companies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa will continue to have access to an exceptionally productive labor force, enhancing our city’s competitiveness as a location for business growth.”

While the NAE report is specific to Cedar Rapids and Linn County, a quick analysis of census data from Johnson County from 2013-2017 shows that over 10 percent of that county’s 151,260 residents or 16,033 are foreign born and are similarly an important part of the economy.

Most parts of Iowa are experiencing population decline, with 69 of the 99 counties losing population since 2010. This decline, contrasted with a growing economy, has thrust much of Iowa into an untenable workforce shortage. One reasonable solution is more lawful immigration.

It’s not that complicated. Unfortunately, it remains too political.