Dubuque Telegraph Herald. July 2, 2022.
Editorial: Midwest must welcome, assist refugees
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words of American poet Emma Lazarus, emblazoned at the base of the Statue of Liberty, reflect a promise at the cornerstone of America.
When the words were inscribed at the nation’s most recognizable landmark in 1903, the poem aptly described the welcoming melting pot that America had become, as well as the promise of possibilities in the land of the free.
A strong, vibrant and innovative country was built on the backs of people who had come from all corners of the world — some by choice, some by force. For those who sought refuge or simply a better life here, the land of opportunity opened its doors.
Being open to immigrants has become more complicated in the decades since. Addressing the crisis at America’s southern border has become a political morass.
But we cannot lose sight of the fact that welcoming immigrant populations is part of who we are as a country, and it’s an influx of people we need.
For decades, about 90,000 refugees per year had been resettled in the U.S., though that number dropped precipitously during the Trump administration when some ethnic groups were prohibited from entry and many resettlement agencies closed.
Last year, when more than 75,000 Afghans found their way to the U.S., agencies scrambled 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-stay hotels with little food or connection to resources.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said at the start of the war in Ukraine that Iowa “stands ready to help receive Ukrainian refugees.” But the way that Iowa struggled to help the Afghan people doesn’t bode well for standing ready for another wave.
Because of the circumstances of exiting a war-torn country, refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine often arrive with little notice nor documentation needed for employment and housing. We must do more and do better to help immigrants find a home in Iowa.
The facts are simple: The tri-state area needs the people.
Across Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, most counties that have seen population growth in the past two decades have seen that growth because of an increase in immigrants. As we face a devastating worker shortage, more people willing to work would be a significant advantage for any area.
Iowa has led in this area before. In the mid-1970s, Gov. 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 directed the effort, and thousands of Iowans made financial contributions and welcomed refugees.
In Dubuque, we celebrate the work of Presentation Lantern Center, which this past 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 conflicts, natural disasters and humanitarian crises that created waves of refugees in the 1990s. This past week, the Lantern Center also celebrated its 100th student who passed the U.S. citizenship test. More than 1,000 individuals have served as tutors over the past two decades.
Meanwhile, a group of local organizations has banded together to help resettle Afghan refugee families in southwest Wisconsin. 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 welcome new members of our community who need assistance. Making those connections resonates particularly in Dubuque, where our roots are as a community of immigrants. Many (if not most) of our citizens are descendants of Irish and German immigrants (and many others). And we are the better for it. Further, our nation and our area desperately need immigrants, as our population shrinks, our national birth rate shrinks and our employment needs growth. It’s simple math.
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 country great. We must seek to dismantle the obstacles and pave an easier path for those who wish to settle in our area.
It’s time to see legal immigration not as a problem but as a solution.