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Chamber signs on to Iowa Compact on Immigration

Citing workforce needs and a desire for changes to federal immigration policy, the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce is one of 40 signatories on the Iowa Compact on Immigration this year.

The Chamber joins several business leaders, academics and other local chambers in Iowa to sign the compact, which includes six basic principles: federal responsibility, strengthening the state’s economy and workforce, a common-sense approach, effective enforcement, family and competitive communities.

“There’s a need in Iowa for workers,” said Chamber Executive Director Lynn Olberding. “We felt that just the language in general in those six principles were things that we support.”

Specifically, she said Chamber leadership liked the “federal responsibility” principle, which calls for the Iowa Congressional delegation to work on bipartisan legislation to fix the country’s immigration system.

“In general, we would like to see something happen, and feel it needs to be at a federal level,” Olberding said.

She said making changes called for in the compact, including providing ways for documented and undocumented immigrants to work legally in the U.S. while also providing border protection, would help local economies like Marshalltown’s.

Iowa currently has the country’s lowest unemployment rate, which also means many businesses and industries are struggling to find qualified workers.

“The way that we’re going to have a strong economy is we need a robust workforce,” Olberding said.

She said immigration is part of building that workforce, along with recruiting college and trades program graduates, among other groups.

Iowa State University professor of economics Peter Orazem also signed on to the compact. He said cities with manufacturing bases would benefit greatly if the changes called for in the document are made.

“Clearly, Iowa has what amounts to a greater challenge filling positions than most states,” he said. “That’s particularly true in some of the skilled and unskilled labor classifications.”

One key Iowa industry he said relies on immigrant labor is meat-packing. That industry is linked to the state’s high rate of hog production, and JBS in Marshalltown is one example of such an employer.

“It’s efficient to process food close to its source of origin,” Orazem said. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to staff meat-packing, an industry that is hard work but a traditional employer of immigrant workers, if immigrant labor is being cut short.”

He said the country’s current immigration system is complicated, so getting here to work legally can be an arduous task. Orazem said Iowa “does not have an atypically large problem with illegal immigrant labor.”

He said federal immigration restrictions could harm certain parts of the economy, given the state and country’s generally low unemployment rate.

“It does seem that some of the policies related to immigration certainly need considerable reform,” Orazem said.

According to the cSompact document, signatories are “committed to promoting common-sense immigration reforms that will strengthen our economy, as well as attract talent and business to the state.”

It states immigrants in Iowa contributed $390 million in state and local taxes and had $3.9 billion in spending power as of 2017.

For more information, visit https://www.iacompact.org/compact-signatories

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify one of Olberding’s quotes.

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