‘We need to decide what we want to be’: Yo Soy Iowa/I Am Iowa Rally in Des Moines Tuesday will focus on immigration

The Iowa State Capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Immigration rights activists and people wanting to show support for Iowa’s immigrant community will gather at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday for the Yo Soy Iowa/I Am Iowa Rally. This is the second year for the May 1 rally at the capitol, but the issues remain the same.

“At the national level, we are pushing for immigration reform,” said Manny Galvez, the editor and publisher of North Liberty-based El Trueque Latino Magazine, and one of the organizers of the rally. “And at the state level, we are pushing back against SF 481.”

SF 481, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill, was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this month. Under the new law anyone can file a complaint that a municipality is failing to fully cooperate with federal immigration agents. Either the Iowa Attorney General’s office or a county attorney’s office would then have to investigate the complaint. If it is determined that the city isn’t complying with the law — which forbids cities from adopting any policy that discourages local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents, and requires police departments to detain people at the request of those agents, even if the person isn’t charged with a crime — the city will lose all state funds until a district court judge determines the city is in compliance.

The bill was opposed by most Iowa law enforcement officials who expressed a position, out of concern it would make immigrants, whether they have all the proper documents or not, afraid to go to the police if they are victims or witnesses of crimes. That was also a point made by Marlu Abarca, a member of Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, in a letter to the governor when the legislature passed SF 481.

Writing on behalf of the commission to ask Reynolds to veto the bill, Abraca shared the story of her own mother, who was raped prior to becoming a naturalized citizen but was unsure what her rights were and was afraid to go to the police, leaving the crime went unreported. “SF481 would break down the confidence and trust between law enforcement and the diverse communities they serve and protect,” Abraca wrote.

Opposition to SF 481, which was passed by the Iowa Senate for the first time in April 2017, was a major focus of last year’s rally. This year is about dealing with the new law and its consequences.

“We need to prepare the community,” Galvez said. “So different organizations are going to do workshops on how [SF 481] will affect the life of the immigrant community here in Iowa.”

The rally will also help introduce people to an innovative project launched in Iowa City last year: the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project (EICBP). The project provides money for bonds in selected immigration cases, and information to help people understand and navigate the immigration enforcement system.

“We want to let people know the Bond Project is here, specifically to get people out of detention and access due process the way it was intended,” said Natalia Espina, community affairs director of EICBP, which is another of the rally’s organizers.

Espina pointed out that the number of non-citizens without criminal records who have been arrested in non-border areas by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has almost tripled. Both Espina and Galvez have heard many stories from immigrant communities in Iowa about ICE’s increased aggression during the Trump presidency. The passage of SF 481 has only made things worse, they said.

“These people [who promoted SF 481] don’t understand what it means to be an immigrant, especially one without documents. Or to have someone in your family without documents,” Galvez said. “It affects the kids so much. We already heard so many stories of kids with stress. ‘What is going to happen with my dad? What is going to happen with the dad of my friend?’”

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“We need to decide what we want to be as Iowa,” he added. “It’s very sad that a small group of people is doing this to Iowa. Because Iowa has a tradition of welcoming immigrants.”

The ultimate solution is to get the Latino community more involved in politics, according to Galvez.

“In Iowa, Latinos don’t participate in elections. We don’t vote as a community, so we need to encourage the people to register and vote,” Galvez said. “This is the important thing in the long-term, because we are part of Iowa and need representation.”

“The focus has be ‘get involved,’” Espina said. “Because political decisions will affect every part of your life.”

The Yo Soy Iowa/I Am Iowa rally starts at 3 p.m. It is being hosted by Latinx Immigrants of Iowa in collaboration with El Trueque, EICBP, LULAC Iowa, American Friends Service Committee Iowa, the Heart of Iowa and Des Moines chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.

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