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Iowa Caucus Must-Reads: New Des Moines Register Series Captures the Growing Disconnect Between Iowa Voters and the GOP’s Lurch to the Right on Immigration

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Recently, two Arizona reporters seasoned in the nuances of immigration politics–Dan Nowicki and Daniel Gonzalez–headed to Iowa to cover the issue before the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.  What they found there may surprise someone who hasn’t spent much time in the state.

Northwest Iowa may be “Steve King country” in its largest stereotype, but their articles, published in the Des Moines Register, show that public opinion about immigrants is not nearly as negative and monolithic as King, Cruz and Trump seem to think.

Gonzalez’ piece describes how Sioux Center has undergone a stunning demographic transformation, driven by labor needs, speaking from behind the eyes of both Americans who have lived in the area forever and recently-arrived immigrants.  He writes:

Trump promises to deport all of the nation’s estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants and build a giant wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The tough talk helped propel him to the top of the crowded GOP field. He narrowly trails fellow immigration hard-liner Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll.

But many residents in this deeply religious, deeply conservative and deeply Republican  county have come to view the immigrants who have settled in Sioux Center — both legal and illegal — as hard-working, enterprising people in search of a better life, much like their own Dutch ancestors.

Nowicki’s article talks about Republicans’ decision to lurch right on immigration in the GOP primary, with implications for the party’s chances in other diverse states:

The extreme attitudes on display at the football game don’t reflect mainstream Iowa, political observers say, but they show how a noisy minority can set the tone and color a political debate. That reality is institutionalized in the state’s caucus system, which is dominated by a relatively small number of party activists, critics say. Iowa kicks off the nation’s presidential voting Feb. 1.

Young Latinos, whom establishment Republicans identified as key to their taking back the White House, have turned out on the Iowa campaign trail. But more often than not it has been to protest the immigration rhetoric of GOP candidates. In particular, they have rallied against Trump, who entered the race denouncing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and has promised to deport within two years the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“This is unfortunately letting this racist genie out of the bottle,” said Brian Behnken, an associate professor in Iowa State University’s department of history and U.S. Latino/Latina studies program. “What you’re seeing is some really ugly and frankly racist and white supremacist things. If you’ve got a guy at a football game … saying, ‘If it ain’t white, it ain’t right,’ what century are we in, again?”

The Arizona Republic reporter’s pieces follow an initial post from Iowa’s own Kyle Munson, a respected columnist who moderated a presidential candidate forum on immigration last year.  Between Munson’s perspective as a native son, and the Arizona reporters’ take visiting the state, it’s clear that the politics of immigration in Iowa are not nearly as simplistic as some believe.

Read the entire Des Moines Register series here:

“Tangled politics of immigration gets personal in Iowa” by Kyle Munson, 1/17/2016

“How a conservative bastion grew to embrace immigrants” by Daniel Gonzalez, 1/19/2016

“Iowa proves hard place for immigration reform message” by Dan Nowicki,1/19/2016