Dubuque Telegraph Herald. July 2, 2022.
Editorial: The Midwest must welcome and help refugees
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearn to breathe freely,
The wretched scum of your teeming shore.
Send me these, the homeless, the storms,
I raise my lamp beside the golden door!
These words of American poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, reflect a promise at the cornerstone of America.
When the words were inscribed on the nation’s most recognizable monument in 1903, the poem aptly described the welcoming melting pot that America had become, as well as the promise of possibility in the land of the free.
A strong, dynamic and innovative country was built on the backs of people from all over the world, some by choice, others by force. For those seeking refuge or simply a better life here, the land of opportunity opened its doors.
Opening up to immigrants became more complicated in the decades that followed. Addressing the crisis on America’s southern border has become a political quagmire.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that welcoming immigrant populations is part of who we are as a country, and it is an influx of people that we need.
For decades, about 90,000 refugees a year were resettled in the United States, although that number dropped precipitously under the Trump administration when certain ethnic groups were barred from entry and many resettlement agencies closed.
Last year, when more than 75,000 Afghans found their way to the United States, agencies rushed to help with resettlement. In Iowa, the effort was poorly executed. The Des Moines Register reported stories of more than 600 Afghan refugees stuck in long-term hotels with little food or connection to resources.
Governor Kim Reynolds said at the start of the war in Ukraine that Iowa “stands ready to help welcome Ukrainian refugees.” But the way Iowa has struggled to help the Afghan people does not bode well for being ready for another surge.
Due to the circumstances of leaving a war-torn country, refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine often arrive without advance notice or necessary documentation for employment and housing. We must do more and better to help immigrants find homes in Iowa.
The facts are simple: the tri-state area needs the people.
In Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, most counties that have experienced population growth over the past two decades have experienced this growth due to an increase in the number of immigrants. As we face a devastating labor shortage, more people ready to work would be a significant benefit for any region.
Iowa has already been a leader in this area. In the mid-1970s, Governor Robert Ray called on citizens to open their communities and their hearts to refugees from the Vietnam War. Iowa led the nation in America’s response to this relief effort. Ray personally led the effort, and thousands of Iowans made financial contributions and took in refugees.
In Dubuque, we celebrate the work of the Presentation Lantern Center, which last week marked 20 years of helping refugees. Founded by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in November 2002, the center was, in part, a response to a call from Pope John Paul II for Catholics to “welcome the stranger” in the face of conflict, disaster natural disasters and humanitarian crises that created waves of refugees in the 1990s. Last week, the Lantern Center also celebrated its 100th student passing the U.S. citizenship test. Over 1,000 people have served as tutors over the past two decades.
Meanwhile, a group of local organizations have come together to help resettle Afghan refugee families in southwestern Wisconsin. The Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program and its partners helped resettle two Afghan families in Platteville earlier this year.
It’s great to see local people playing a role in helping to welcome new members of our community who need help. Making those connections resonates especially in Dubuque, where our roots are as an immigrant community. Many (if not most) of our citizens are descendants of Irish and German immigrants (and many others). And we’re doing better. Additionally, our country and our region is in desperate need of immigrants as our population declines, our national birth rate declines, and our employment needs growth. It’s a simple calculation.
On this Independence Day weekend, as we reflect on the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, let us also remember the generations of immigrants and refugees who helped make this a great country. . We must seek to dismantle the obstacles and pave an easier path for those who wish to settle in our region.
It’s time to see legal immigration not as a problem but as a solution.
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