At a forum for immigrants and refugees in Des Moines, ways to keep people from crossing the border or penalties for companies hiring illegal workers weren’t discussed.
Instead, panelists focused on ways to support immigrants already in Iowa, legally or not.
“These people are already here. They’re already part of our lives,” said Ying Sa, a panelist.
More than 200 people from business leaders to school officials filled the Botanical Center, speaking about local issues faced by immigrants.
“We can’t do the things we did 10 or 20 years ago, and expect them to work now,” said Vinh Nguyen, a panelist.
One of the issues is how to teach the language.
“It doesn’t take immigrants four years to learn English. It took me thirty,” said Nguyen.
The current system gives schools four years to get non-English speaking students up to grade level. Panelists say that needs to be increased to seven in order to increase a young immigrant’s odds of going to college or getting a job.
“This is a workforce that is young, ready, and eager to learn. We need to invest in them,” said Sandra Sanchez, a panelist.
Most people here want to get rid of the red tape that prevents immigrants from things like starting businesses or even driving a car.
In January, the Iowa DOT announced it would grant licenses to illegal immigrants eligible to work through President Obama’s deferred action policy.
Panelists say that’s not enough.
“They would be increasing the number of car sales, and paying taxes for licenses,” said Sanchez.
Everyone at the forum argues immigrants can improve the quality of life for all Iowans.
Now, the goal is to convince the few who run Iowa’s government.
“Lawmakers need to hear from us. They need to hear what he desire, “said Nguyen.