Rural Iowa embracing immigrant communities

South Bend, Ind. Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg recently spoke at a Texas Tribune event in Austin and he talked a lot about Storm Lake with Stephanie Ruhle from MSNBC.

Stephanie Ruhle: You’ve traveled the country, you have a much better sense of what the American people stand for, who they are, than most of us do. When we hear, when we learn about hate crimes on the rise, or an anti-immigrant sentiment — is there confusion around that? Are there pockets of America that aren’t anti-immigrant, but they are saying “Pete, I do want to care about Guatemala, and Honduras, and El Salvador, but I need to care about myself first.” We do have large pockets of America where people are suffering. And the president has offered them an either or — the president has painted a picture that ‘Democrats only care about them and not you’ — and that may have fueled this anti-immigrant sentiment. So, knowing the country the way you do, tell us what people really think and how they feel.

Mayor Buttigieg: Well, one thing I’ve noticed is that communities with a lot of immigration, even in very conservative areas—

Stephanie Ruhle: Like where?

Mayor Buttigieg: Well, take Storm Lake, Iowa. This is an area — definitely conservative, broadly speaking, rural — but there’s a big food and agriculture industry there. And when they do their 4th of July parade, you will see a parade of nations with 24 floats of 24 different—

Stephanie Ruhle: In Iowa?

Mayor Buttigieg: In rural Iowa. And they’re proud of it; this is the thing, they embrace it. Because they know how important it is to the economy — I mean, these packing plants don’t run — but also, it’s increasingly important to the community. And what they’ve found is, it certainly doesn’t make the community worse off — and in countless ways, it makes the community better off. But I didn’t have to travel far to see this effect, because it’s happening in my hometown. Remember, South Bend lost 30,000 people after the factories closed in the 60s. That means, from a mayor’s perspective, I got enough pipes we’ve got to maintain, and miles of street that we’ve got to plow and pave, and fire stations that we’ve got to keep up — to serve 30,000 more taxpayers than we actually have. Now, we’re finally growing for the first time in a while — and it’s not a huge number, but the fact that we’re growing is a big deal, we’re proud of it. If you did away with immigration, the number would actually be negative. We need that growth. We don’t only need population— job growth strategies, we need population growth strategies too. So, when the president says we’re full, I’m thinking, we’re not full. Matter of fact, I’d be very happy to have 30,000 more people paying taxes in our community — and never forget that an immigrant is a taxpayer, even an undocumented immigrant is a taxpayer — to help us fund all of this infrastructure. So, what I’m finding is, the more there’s actually an experience with immigration — I mean, we can be awful up close too, but as a general rule, we’re better towards communities of people that are actually among us. And from a South Bend perspective, this has made a tremendous difference. It’s not about doing a favor. Matter of fact, if you run the numbers — I hate to say it, but undocumented immigrants are subsidizing citizens — because the amount of taxes they pay outweighs the amount of benefits they’re able to get.

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