Welcome! The mission of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition is to educate Iowans about immigrants and inform the development of common-sense immigration policies that enhance Iowa’s economy and quality of life, preserve families, and affirm the dignity of immigrants.
Join our Mailing List
Recent Tweets @iowaimmigration
Posts I Like
Who I Follow
Posts tagged "Iowa"

There is an eerie consensus across the aisle in DC that our current immigration system is broken, in need of reform, and change is necessary for the long term economic growth.  There is little consensus on how such reform will be achieved, who will lead it, and what will eventually motivate Congress into action.

Human Capital, impacted by immigration, was one of the core topics of the Des Moines Partnership’s DC trip this spring and I am privileged in being able to join business and government leaders from our region on this trip.  I am certainly privileged to work with Lori Chesser from the Davis Brown Law firm and invited to a panel on immigration.

The panel, consisting of Rosemary Gutierrez and David Johns from Sen Harkin’s office, Kathy Neubel Kovarik from Sen Grassley’s office, Aaron Brickman from Department of Commerce, Ben Johnson from American Immigration Council, and moderated by Lori Chesser was attended by various members of the Des Moines community and focused significantly on answering questions from the audience and thus remaining very interactive.

There are three forms of legal immigration today – 1) marriage to a US citizen, 2) sponsorship by an employer, or 3) sponsorship by an American citizen family member.  Being involved in all three forms, I felt comfortable contributing my experience and need for policy changes and bills currently circulating in DC.  I am married to a natural born US citizen from Iowa,  have sponsored, on my previous company’s behalf, several H1b candidates from India, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam, many of who are taxpaying residents, green card holders, naturalized citizens and contributors to Iowa and the US economy.  I am also sponsoring my sister, a Malaysian citizen to the US.

What is broken and in need of fix are the second and third categories.  Whether it is the HR3012 bill that allows green cards to be issued from the available pool rather than be artificially limited, the proposed StartupVisa that allows for foreign entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the US when sponsored by an accredited US investor, the DREAM act  or others, several solutions exist and are available to Congress.

What I heard from many during this recent visit to DC was that many in Congress would rather wait for a comprehensive immigration reform.  Both Senators’ offices comments were consistent that they prefer comprehensive reform such that visas should not take jobs from US workers, college seats from native US students, be considered comprehensively and not piecemeal etc.

Though a desire for comprehensive reform is respectable, Congress hasn’t shown an ability to work together toward real reform in my voting life in the US.  Furthermore, careers in STEM fields continue to be underfilled by software developers, doctors and  engineers.  Companies large and small, represented in the audience for our forum, continue needing to offshore their work in absence of sufficient resources here.

As Jim Clifton so clearly pointed out in Coming Jobs War, there is a marked change underway worldwide.  Qualified technology workers are finding an ability to find careers overseas and no longer want to stand in line as second-class citizens in the US.  Recent news reports are listed net-immigration from Mexico even to be zero, resulting in shifts even in the agricultural economies of Texas, Florida and California.    People are finding opportunities elsewhere in the world, and if we are unable or unwilling to bring job-seekers here, our companies will be sending the jobs overseas.

My message to the congressional representatives and other members on the panel was clear –

  1. We can’t wait for comprehensive reform.  To stem the outflow of jobs, we must tweak our immigration policy through bills like the HR3012 that received significant support in the house (373-15) but remain stuck in the Senate.
  2. Small and new businesses are the job creators.  Startups, a subset of the new businesses, are the high growth leaders in wealth creation that leads to more job creators.  The StartupVisa, as introduced by Kerry and Luger in 2011 needs to be addressed in Congress.
  3. Our colleges and universities are global leaders in education and attract students from around the world.  As we graduate them and give them options to intern/train via OPT/CPT statutes, we should allow them the ability to apply for a green card and legal employment at the end of the practical training rather than subject them to 3-10 years of servitude via the H1b program.  These students represent a large community of individuals who are establishing strong ties to America – we need to grow through them.
  4. Our schools and colleges are not graduating needed numbers of STEM fields.  While we build that population up through K-12 systems over the next 20-30 years, we should make our universities and colleges attractive globally through a foreign student program as attractive as the one I used when entering this US in the 1980s.
  5. The DREAM Act proposes to give children of illegal immigrants a legal way to stay in the country.  Whether it is the original Dream act or the modified version by Senator Marco Rubio, the purpose is the same – keep and grow with those who love and cherish America.

We do not have time for comprehensive reform, or does Congress show any willingness to bridge the divide, specially in this election year and beyond.    If you have any doubts about our place in the world, pickup a copy of Jim Clifton’s Coming Jobs War or Thomas Friedman’s many tomes, including That Used to be Us.

via StartupIowa

A POWERFUL TRANSITION

On first impression, it doesn’t look like anything has changed in Iowa. White residents are still as common as corn here, accounting for 91 percent of the state’s slightly more than 3 million people, according to the 2010 census. Statewide, Hispanics still represent only 1 in 20 residents. But over the last decade, Iowa’s white population actually contracted by 1 percentage point, while its Hispanic population increased by 2.3 percentage points.

That’s been enough to alter the look not only of Des Moines, the state capital, but even small towns, such as Marshalltown, population 27,552, and even smaller Postville. The ensuing changes have resulted in inevitable collisions—the growing pains of any community forced to adapt to change and integration.

The Hispanic share of Marshalltown’s population has almost doubled over the past 10 years to 24 percent. More than 42 businesses here are Hispanic-owned. For the past two decades, Hispanics have been drawn to Marshalltown by jobs in meat-processing and -packing plants, farms, and dairies. In 2006, the community found itself in an uncomfortable spotlight when Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agents raided a Swift & Co. meat-packing plant here and arrested nearly 100 of its workers as undocumented workers.

From that wrenching experience, it would be easy to assume that the presence of Hispanics and other minorities has brought nothing but tension. The reality is more complex.

The first wave of immigrants to Marshalltown was men who arrived on their own during the late 1980s and early 1990s to work in the meat plants. The arrival of significant numbers of unattached men, who looked different and spoke differently than the longtime residents, generated predictable tension. This eventually gave way by around the turn of the century to the arrival of entire families—not just from Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere in Latin America, but Hispanic families from other states. By now, many of Marshalltown’s Hispanics say they have lived in the state for more than a decade.

This influx has been felt most profoundly in the churches and the schools. Sister Christine Feagan directs the Catholic Church’s Hispanic ministry in Marshalltown’s St. Mary’s Parish. The very existence of her job is a testament to change, but she can measure it even more precisely. “I use the parish as a gauge,” she says. “When I arrived in 1999, there was one Mass in Spanish and three in English. Now, we have three Masses in Spanish, and 70 percent of the parish is Hispanic.”

In the schools, the transition is almost as powerful. Twenty years ago, 98 percent of Marshalltown Community School District students were white. Minorities now represent 54 percent of the total enrollment, with Hispanics alone (43 percent) nearly equaling whites (46 percent). Last year, Marshalltown High School’s prom king and queen were Hispanic.

As Hispanic students, many of them immigrants, began to flood into the school district at the beginning of the decade, the English as a Second Language program became a lightning rod for controversy. In 1992, 75 students were classified as English Language Learners. Now 1,735 students speak one of 30 languages besides English, and the district has the third-largest population of ELL students in the state.

The 2006 Swift raid added another source of conflict: Many students had to cope with the arrest, detention, and deportation of their parents. As the raid heightened tensions in the community, conflict spilled over into school hallways.

Salvador Lara, a 25-year-old born in Mexico, graduated from Marshalltown High School in 2006. He remembers edginess between whites and Latinos, but he says it gradually dissipated. He was part of the group Building Bridges, which was founded to improve communication among ethnic groups.

Conflict, he says, has eased in part because “Hispanics no longer have the worst jobs or the poorest houses. It demonstrates that we’re reaching a level that’s helping us be more accepted. We’ve contradicted a lot of stereotypes about Hispanics.”

The town itself appears to have undergone an evolution similar to the one Lara describes in the schools. “When the Swift raid happened, it really woke up our town. For the first time, it really humanized the immigration issue. And people realized the economic impact it would have in Marshalltown. What if the entire Latino community pulled out of here? Schools would have closed, businesses would have closed,” says Joa LaVille, youth services director for the Marshalltown Public Library.

LaVille is a member of Immigrant Allies, one of the groups that has sprouted in Iowa to promote understanding of how demographic change and its consequences affect everyone in the community. She represents what has probably become the dominant view: Whether citizens or immigrants, legal or undocumented, everyone contributes to the economy: with their labor; with the businesses they open and fund; with the taxes they pay on goods, property, and income; with the rent and utility bills they pay; with the schools they fill. It’s a lesson residents have been forced to learn, and one many of them are still digesting.

The reality is that without the population growth that the immigrants provided, Marshalltown faced “very definite population and economic decline,” says Mark A. Grey, a professor of anthropology at the University of Northern Iowa and the director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration.

Ken Anderson, president of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “What has evolved over time is the realization of our indigenous population that they [Latinos] are in fact an economic force for everyday living,” he says. “And I think that it took us a while to roll that out.”

Yet complications endure. One is the complex immigration status of some residents. Lara, for instance, was born in Mexico and brought here illegally by his sister when he was 14. After he graduated from Marshalltown High, he pursued a community-college degree. But without papers, he was ineligible for scholarships and took a job in a restaurant instead. Later, he was charged with fifth-degree theft for taking a money bag he found in a parking lot. The fine was only $85, but under the Obama administration’s ICE Secure Communities program (which checks the immigration status of anyone booked into a local jail), Lara was turned over to immigration agents, detained, and nearly deported. Now out on bail, he awaits his first immigration-court hearing in Omaha, Neb., in June. Hundreds of Marshalltown residents have written letters of support.

Concern about illegal immigration remains a burr in Iowa—not as inflamed as in places like Arizona and Alabama, but persistent and raw in some quarters.

“You hear around that they need to go home, they need to learn English, they are illegals, we need an Arizona type of law,” says Larry Ginter, a 73-year-old retired farmer who was born and raised in the nearby town of Rhodes. “We just push back. Some of us understand why so many of the folks are up here. But some people don’t. I try to change minds, but sometimes it’s difficult.”

‘GRACIAS A DIOS’

These cross-pressures may be even more evident in nearby Postville. This tiny town was transformed by an influx of workers to its Agriprocessors meat-packing plant. The kosher plant attracted not just a community of Hasidic Jews (mostly from Brooklyn), but immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico as well as refugees from several countries. Incorporating all of those new faces wasn’t easy, but many here felt that the community was progressing on that path. It was also benefiting from the population growth. “I don’t think it would be idealistic to say we’d struck a balance, albeit fragile, that people had reached the point of being neighbors,” says Maryn Olson, a local resident.

Then in 2008, in a massive ICE raid, nearly 400 of the plant’s 1,000 workers were detained. Fully 306 were convicted, mostly for use of false identification documents. The raid broke open a hornet’s nest of violations at the plant, including animal abuse and violations of food-safety and labor laws, as well as a bank-fraud operation for which one owner is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence. (None of the owners was convicted on immigration charges, however.) Agriprocessors, which declared bankruptcy in 2008, was sold to new owners.

To replace the detained workers came Native Americans from reservations in Nebraska, recruits from homeless shelters in South Texas and other states, and people from Palau—who, as the result of a World War II-vintage treaty, can work in the United States without applying for a work visa.

Almost four years later, the community is recovering, many residents say, although some concede that the raid erased a measure of the progress made toward integration.

“We have the Palauans, the Somalians now, so the demographics have changed. But there’s more negative stigma attached to everything. So more single men instead of the families again … in a way we’re now backtracking,” says Jillian White-Hernández, 27,  a high school teacher married to an undocumented immigrant.

Yet even the raid itself fostered a number of interethnic relationships that remain strong today. One of them can be seen in the living room of Guatemalan immigrant Rosa Zamora, where Priscilla Sliwa, a Quaker farm owner who lives near Decorah, Iowa, gets enthusiastic hugs of greeting from Zamora’s two daughters when she stops by for a visit.

Zamora and her husband were undocumented when they worked at the Agriprocessors plant and were detained in the raid. Her husband was deported to Guatemala.

A week after the raid, Sliwa went to Postville to volunteer at St. Bridget’s Church, which was serving as a sanctuary to immigrants and their families. Someone asked her to visit a mother who needed assistance. And so, “gracias a Dios,” Sliwa says in Spanish, she met Zamora. Today, Zamora’s daughters, one born in Guatemala and one in Iowa, call her “Grandma.”

Zamora applied for, and was eventually able to obtain, legal status thanks to a U visa, for immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crimes while in the United States. She was then able to petition for legal status for her husband—allowing him to return to Postville from Guatemala—and for her older daughter.

Sliwa sees demographic change in Iowa as an inevitability. She traces the migrations evident in the heartland today to longtime U.S. policies, such as intervention in Central American civil wars in the 1980s. “My government, I believe, has created the situation from which Rosa came looking for something better for her family,” Sliwa says. “This immigrant story is the story of all of us, and together we are a stronger country.”

Read the full story here.

by Chastity Dillard

Local and statewide immigrants’ rights advocates said a part of Iowa’s future may depend on immigration.

"The only real growth of population in Iowa has been thanks to immigrants and refugees," said Sandra Sanchez, the director for the Immigrant Voices Program for the American Friends Service Committee.

Last month, the Pew Hispanic Center released a study showing Mexico to United States net migration levels — for legal and illegal immigrants — have stopped increasing and may have reversed. The center estimated Iowa has 55,000 to 85,000 undocumented immigrants of various backgrounds.

"We need people who will take positions in jobs, leadership, government," Sanchez said. "If we don’t have that with immigrants, we will have a gap, an empty vacuum of both leadership and unable workers."

Sanchez said a majority of Iowa immigrants are Mexican.

Rep. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola — who supports a state law that would mimic Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant law — said he’s OK with immigrants as long as they are legal.

"There are studies that show [illegal immigration] is a net loss cost," he said noting medical, educational, and child services are used by undocumented individuals. "[For] all the typical things the state provides, we would save millions and billions of dollars."

But advocates agreed communities need to make all people regardless of documentation feel welcome.

" ‘What will [Iowa’s] needs be in the future’ is what we need to do with immigration in the future," said Lori Chesser, the head of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition. "In Iowa, we need to look at where will our workers come from."

And finding ways to reach out to immigrants is a good start, she said.

"[Getting local police] to know the immigrant communities to create mutual trust and understanding," she said. "City Council members meeting with immigrant communities … and the Chamber of Commerce reaching out to immigrant-owned businesses to include them in programs or committees — this helps set the tone."

Iowa City city councilors said they are aware of immigration concerns raised within the community.

"I am aware that a committee consultation of religious communities is working on this topic and that they will soon be submitting a proposal to the City Council," Councilor Jim Throgmorton said, noting this is a follow-up from the Human Rights Commission proposal last fall. "I look forward to reading about it. It’s an important topic and deserves our consideration.

Throgmorton said he believes the proposal will be brought to City Council in the next three to four weeks.

Father Rudolph Juarez of St. Patrick Church, 4330 St. Patrick Drive, has advocated locally for reducing anti-immigrant sentiment, and he introduced a Sanctuary City proposal in 2010.

"I don’t know if Iowa City is any different from any city in Iowa," he said, noting the city’s progressive past.

Iowa City officials have not yet taken a stance on the proposal.

Chesser said other countries, such as Japan, are seeing increasingly older populations because of low birth rates, which immigration could balance as it does in the United States.

"Really, to fix the problem, we have to work at the federal level," she said. "In the long term, [Iowa is] going to be hurt by the failure to broaden immigration categories."

The Wallace House Dialogue Dinners return starting Tuesday, April 24, with three new programs. The topic of discussion will be aspects of immigration in Iowa.

Each dinner will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Wallace House, 756 16th St. Cost is $25 per person. Following dinner, guest presenters will offer interesting observations about how immigration has shaped Iowa. Facilitated conversations will follow at each table.

On Tuesday, authors Carol Roh Spaulding and Kay Fenton Smith will present information about youths immigrating to Des Moines and about their children’s book, “Zakery’s Bridge.”

On May 15, Sherry Gupta will speak about her work with Cultureall, an organization that helps students and adults better understand and appreciate the various cultures in central Iowa.

On May 29, Des Moines author Jennifer Wilson will share her family’s story, now a successful book, “Running Away to Home.”

Reservations for the Dialogue Dinners are required. Call 243-7063 or email janfalk@wallace.org.

2:28 PM, Apr 17, 2012 | by Janet Klockenga of the Des Moines Register

Immigration: America’s Mixed Message
April 18th @ Coralville Public Library
7pm - 9pm
featuring IIEC’s own Geof Fischer

Immigration: America’s Mixed Message

  • April 18th @ Coralville Public Library
  • 7pm - 9pm
  • featuring IIEC’s own Geof Fischer

Sanctuary City Committee brings immigration issues to the forefront in Iowa City

ImmigrationRegina senior Maria Cardoza, 17, does her homework in the kitchen while her sister, Nilsa, 12, practices the flute Tuesday in their home outside of Iowa City. / Josh O’Leary / Iowa City Press-Citizen

Maria Cardoza and her five sisters have a scrapbook tucked away in their Iowa City mobile home. Inside, they paste photographs and notes from the past year, trying to preserve the milestones and memories their mother has missed since they last saw her May 4, 2011.

Maria, 17, remembers the day well. Her mother, also named Maria, was cooking and chatting with her eldest daughter about what to take to school the next day for a Cinco de Mayo party when she took a phone call from her uncle, who was having domestic issues with his wife. Her mom drove away from the house to help with the situation — something she’d been called to do many times before.

Later that night, the phone rang again. It was Maria’s mother, who had been pulled over and detained by law enforcement. She was charged with failing to have a valid license in Muscatine County, according to court records, but authorities soon learned she was an illegal immigrant.

Maria says her uncle’s wife had alerted authorities that her mother was undocumented, leading to her arrest and eventual deportation. She initially was taken to Muscatine, then in the coming days to Cedar Rapids, then out of state before being flown back to Guatemala.

Ten months later, 39-year-old Maria Cardoza is living with her father in Guatemala, and calls Iowa City twice a day to check on her six daughters. The younger Maria, a senior at Regina High School, is the oldest, helping her father, Vidal, care for Nilsa, 12; Mariana, 11; twins Siomara and Tania, 8; and Diana, 4.

“When she first got caught, it was really sad because it was a big change,” the younger Maria said Tuesday in their living room in a mobile home park outside of Iowa City. “She’s always been with us. It was harder because I had to take care of my sisters and do the things my dad couldn’t do. I go to school, then I come home and make food.”

Vidal is an illegal immigrant as well. His children all were born in the U.S. and are citizens, but Vidal is one of an estimated 75,000 unauthorized immigrants living in Iowa.

Vidal says he has been living in the U.S. since after his oldest daughter was born, crossing over from Mexico to join his wife in California for work. The family spent several years in Grand Rapids, Mich., before Maria brought her children to Iowa, where a family member lived, about 2½ years ago. Vidal joined the family a year ago, finding factory work for a couple of months but lost the job because because of citizenship status, his daughter said.

The family is living on $600 a month in Social Security payments for Siomara’s medical issues, as well as food stamps and charitable help through their church, St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City. Four of the children receive scholarships and FAFSA help to attend Regina, said Maria, who drives her sisters to school each day. Siomara, who attends Lemme Elementary, is bused to school and goes the Children’s Center for Therapy twice weekly for help with her stomach issues.

The family is working with an immigration lawyer, and Vidal, 43, remains hopeful that one day the girls will be reunited with their mother. He considered moving the family back to Guatemala after his wife was deported but decided the U.S. offered a better future for his children.

“I’ve thought about it, but right now everything has changed a lot over there,” Vidal said in Spanish as Maria interpreted. “There’s a lot of crime, and it’s very dangerous over there. It’s a totally difficult lifestyle. I would like us to stay here.”

The Rev. Rudolph Juarez of St. Patrick Church, which offers Spanish Masses and works with those in the Hispanic community, said he admires Vidal’s perseverance.

“He’s had to be both mother and father to these girls, and that’s a tough situation for anybody to be in,” Juarez said. “And to be in a situation where the ordinary family ties and support are not always there, we’ve tried to be a spiritual family and community for them.”

Immigration has been a simmering topic on the local level in recent years. The Sanctuary City Committee, an Iowa City group that formed three years ago as an offshoot to the Consultation of Religious Communities, has pushed city officials to become the first in the state to offer protections to undocumented immigrants.

The Iowa City Council ultimately balked at a sanctuary city ordinance last year, citing potential complications with the federal Secure Communities program, which requires fingerprints collected at the local jails be routed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check against immigration databases.

The Sanctuary City Committee, which most recently met Thursday, continues to move forward despite the setback at the council level, committee member Sarah Swisher said.

“We have a consensus among the committee that the action of Iowa City Council was inadequate, that we need to protect immigrants in this community,” Swisher said. “It’s not our goal to protect undocumented immigrants from the federal government. It’s our goal to have the city to play no role in the enforcement of federal laws related to immigration.”

Juarez, who also is a committee member, said that although the group has yet to affect any policy or code changes with the city, it has succeeded in bringing immigration issues to the forefront locally. He said a new immigration roundtable group has formed, composed of those interested in issues such as labor, living conditions and police relations. The group also has begun an endeavor called the Immigrant Voices Project, which will provide a forum for those who might not have a means to make themselves heard.

“We want people who are immigrants in Iowa City to be able to come forward with some of their own stories, the experiences they’ve had and what the immigrant experience looks like,” Juarez said. “Sometimes we can get lost in what the leadership says immigrants want or need, but not be connected to the base.”

A 2011 report by the Pew Hispanic Center estimates the U.S.’s unauthorized immigrant population at 11.2 million.

Iowa’s estimated illegal immigrant population has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, according to the report. In 1990, the state had an estimated 5,000 of the nation’s 3.5 million illegal immigrants. That number rose to 25,000 in 2000, to 55,000 in 2005 and 75,000 in 2010.

The report also estimates that unauthorized immigrants make up 3.2 percent of Iowa’s labor force, with 55,000 working.

Maria and her sisters have a system down. Each girl gets two or three minutes on the phone with their mom before passing it off to the next; one call after school and once to say goodnight before bedtime. Maria guesses it costs about $5 a day for phone cards. It’s not exactly getting tucked into bed at night, but the calls keep their mother close.

“It’s been hard,” Maria said.

Making trips to the grocery store, cooking and driving her siblings to school and appointments — all reasons she took a driver’s education course last year — Maria has taken on the role of mother this past year. It’s much the same as her own father’s childhood, growing up poor and forced to work as a kid in Guatemala.

“He was the oldest and his dad was not a good influence,” Maria said. “He was basically like the dad of the house, and he suffered a lot, and he doesn’t want that for us.”

At the same time, she’s still a typical teen. Maria is on Regina’s yearbook staff, has made many friends in class, whom she describes as welcoming, and is excited to play soccer — her father’s favorite sport as a kid — this spring. She hopes to become a cosmetologist after high school and eventually go to school for nursing.

Vidal doesn’t worry about being deported because he stays out of trouble with the law, he says. Although he hopes to find steady work and to move the family into something larger than their cramped mobile home, he said he’s not angry with his situation.

“It’s not a frustration; it’s more a sadness that people are able to separate a family and kids because she never did anything bad or illegal besides being here,” Vidal said through his daughter.

Iowa City attorney Dan Vondra has been working on the elder Maria’s case, but he said it could be a lengthy battle before she can legally return to the U.S.

“People who get removed, sometimes it’s a process of two to three years to come back before they’re actually able to re-enter,” Vondra said.

Said Juarez: “One thing about our immigration system is it’s extremely complicated and extremely slow. So there’s no quick fixes when it comes to obtaining legal statuses.”

Until then, Vidal watches as his daughters paste pictures into their ever-growing scrapbook. The family hopes to save up enough money to one day send it to their mother.

“I’m staying positive,” Vidal said. “I believe God gave me a reason to be here, and even with this going on, I believe that someday this will all be resolved.”

Written by
Josh O’Leary
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Reach Josh O’Leary at joleary@press-citizen.com or 887-5415
.

Salvador Lara was 14 when his sister brought him to Iowa from the streets of Mexico City.

He didn’t realize he was here illegally. Even children who do understand their immigration status likely don’t understand the implications for the future. They attend school and play sports and earn money mowing lawns.

They go about the business of childhood just like their peers. Then they grow up. And things get more complicated.

You need to prove your identity to move forward in life. Without proper documentation, like a Social Security card or birth certificate, you cannot get some jobs or a driver’s permit or financial aid for college. You realize you have to lie to build any kind of normal life. You tolerate being wronged by landlords or employers or neighbors because you don’t want to come to anyone’s attention.

Though you consider the United States your home, you are forced to live in the shadows as an adult. The fear of deportation always hangs over your head.

Salvador Lara, now 25, has lived in Marshalltown since coming to the U.S.. He is now in the Marshall County Jail facing deportation to Mexico.

His story, recently detailed on the front page of The Des Moines Register, is yet another example of the devastation caused by this country’s immigration laws and Congress’ refusal to enact reform.

Changing immigration law isn’t only about providing people a legal way to enter the United States and work. It’s not just about patrolling the border to catch those sneaking across. It’s about creating a path for people brought to this country illegally as children to gain legal status and remain.

Many Washington lawmakers say they sympathize with people like Lara. Unfortunately, they don’t support policies to help them. The U.S. government has, in some ways, made matters worse with initiatives like Secure Communities.

The program allows police to compare the fingerprints of people in local jails against a federal immigration database. Public support is widespread when people with extensive criminal records are nabbed.

But Lara wasn’t a felon. He didn’t have a lengthy record. Instead, he was charged with fifth-degree theft after he picked up and kept a money bag that he found in a parking lot.

He was fined $85. But he was snared by the Secure Communities program. Now he waits to join the nearly 170,000 other people in this country who have been deported since the program’s inception.

More than 150 people in Marshalltown have written letters or called immigration authorities on Lara’s behalf. His high school teachers remember him as a leader dedicated to learning English. He’s been a soccer coach and a caregiver for a dying family member and has worked in restaurants.

He said he refused to buy fake papers to help him get a job in a meatpacking plant because he didn’t want to steal anyone’s identity. “If you’re going to commit a crime to get a job, I’d rather not do it,” he said.

Being deported means he will have to leave his family and the country he knows best and go back to Mexico, where he says he doesn’t have family.

Lara is not a bad person. He is yet another example of why humane and sensible immigration reform is overdue.


Salvador Lara in Marshall County jail
Salvador Lara in Marshall County jail: Salvador Lara in Marshall County jail
 Written by
JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD

MARSHALLTOWN, IA. — Salvador Lara lives life with little room for error, and he slipped up.

Lara, 25, sits in the Marshall County Jail facing deportation for picking up a money bag off the ground that didn’t belong to him. His fellow soccer coach, looking at him in an orange jumpsuit on the other side of a glass barrier, tries to help Lara come to terms with his situation through the game they both love.

“You know, Salvador, soccer is a game that has so little scoring, you can make one little mistake that can have huge consequences,” said Karen Boland, who brought on Lara as a volunteer assistant coach for a traveling girls’ soccer team. “Now you’re experiencing that in life.”

Boland is one of more than 150 people in Marshalltown who have written letters or called immigration authorities on Lara’s behalf.

Lara helped turn Boland’s nine-loss team into a club that won eight games last fall. In January, though, Lara’s future changed after he was arrested and charged with fifth-degree theft, a misdemeanor. He was ordered to pay $85 in restitution, the amount of money in the unmarked bag.

Salvador Lara, 25, breaks down during an interview at the Marshall County Jail in Marshalltown as he talks about the prospect of leaving his sister and relatives in Iowa. Jailed after a theft conviction, he now faces being deported to Mexico, where he has no family. / Rodney White/The RegisterThe punishment from immigration authorities is a life sentence of sorts. Lara faces deportation with no chance for re-entry into the United States, even though everyone he knows and loves is in Iowa.

Stories like Lara’s are not unusual, and they are expected to become more common as a program called Secure Communities rolls out nationwide.

Under the three-year-old program, fingerprints of people booked into a local jail are checked against a federal immigration database. Secure Communities was activated in all Iowa counties on Jan. 24. It’s designed to increase public safety by snagging illegal immigrants convicted of crimes who might otherwise slip through the system.

Critics, though, say it ensnares too many people like Lara, even as authorities have pledged to focus on deporting serious felons, gang members and other dangerous criminals.

High school teachers who never had Lara in class recall his leadership in easing tensions between Latino and white students. Parents remember Lara as a youth soccer coach.

Lara advocated Dream Act passage

Lara has also lobbied state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley to pass the Dream Act, a law that allows immigrants like Lara who were illegally brought into the country to attend college.

Supporters have all contacted immigration authorities with the same message: Don’t deport Salvador. He is a valued member of our community.

Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said the senator appreciated the conference call with Lara and understands the need to protect young people forced to enter the country illegally, unaware of the consequences. “But at the same time, (Grassley) knows the need to be conscious of those people standing in line, all around the world, who follow the law and wait their turn to come here legally,” she said.

In a June 28 Senate hearing, Grassley argued that passing the legislation would open the door to fraud and abuse of the immigration system.

Grassley was among seven Republican senators to ask the Obama administration on Jan. 30 to enforce the federal immigration laws. In a letter, the senators said they agreed with concerns voiced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton about local governments like Cook County, Ill., that have passed an ordinance that allows local police to ignore Secure Communities.

“We agree with Director Morton that this ordinance undermines public safety and hinders ICE’s ability to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. We also believe it violates federal law,” the senators said.

Lara’s original sin, in the eyes of the law, was that he slipped into the United States at age 14. His older sister brought him to Iowa because he had dropped out of school to sell water jugs on the streets of Mexico City. His mother was neglecting him, and his stepfather was abusive.

Even after six weeks in jail, thinking about his actions, Lara can’t explain them. Police said Lara acknowledged to them that he knew who owned the blue zippered money bag that he picked up outside a Walmart. He knows he should have taken the bag to the store’s customer service desk. But he didn’t.

“I just wasn’t thinking. I made a mistake and I’m paying for it right now. But I don’t think I deserve to go back to a country where right now I don’t know anybody,” he said.

His cause draws many supporters

Immigrant advocates have taken up Lara’s cause, but his plight has also drawn support from unexpected places.

Take Boland, who prefers soccer to politics. If Salvador had not taken full responsibility for his actions, she said, she wouldn’t be going to bat for him.

“I’m not an activist. But when it comes to someone you know personally, and you’re going, ‘This is just not right. This is just not fair,’ it really raises your level of awareness,” she said.

Despite the theft case, people call Lara a man of character. Deb Holsapple, an associate principal at Marshalltown High School, recalls Lara’s dogged determination to learn English, demanding that she speak to him in a language he struggled to grasp.

Lara cared for his sister’s mother-in-law until she died last year. When the obituary ran in the local paper, he was listed as a family member.

Lara has also refused to buy fake papers to find a job at the local meatpacking plant, because he didn’t want to steal someone’s identity. He has instead opted for jobs at restaurants, which pay less.

“If you’re going to commit a crime to get a job, I’d rather not do it,” he said.

Like many other immigrants in his situation, Lara lost his way after graduating from high school. His friends had driver’s licenses and went off to college. Lara stayed behind. He struggled to afford community college classes and never graduated. He isolated himself from friends and gained 30 pounds.

Those who know Lara trace his downward slide to the moment he realized he was an illegal immigrant.

“He didn’t understand he was illegal at 14,” said Joa LaVille, 42, an immigrant advocate in Marshalltown who started the Facebook page “Speak up for Salvador.”

Lara found new direction in lobbying lawmakers to pass the Dream Act. He saw the bill as his only way out of a bad situation, and he devoted himself to the task, which is ongoing.

Lara said he sank into depression last week after immigration lawyers told him there was nothing they could do because of his criminal conviction. One factor working against Lara, who is single and has no children, is that under immigration law, he has no immediate family ties.

Still, Lara calls home twice a day from jail — at night to tell his niece and nephew he loves them, and in the afternoon to talk to his sister, the woman who raised him.

“I tell her that I’m sorry and that I love her,” he said.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


There has been a spike in the number of Chinese students applying for Iowa universities, according to officials.

The number of Chinese undergraduate enrollments for Iowa State University (ISU) increased from 72 in 2003 to 1,212 students in 2012. University of Iowa (UI) also saw a big surge of Chinese students, rising from 591 students in 2005 to 1,731 in 2011. Director of ISU’s International Students and Scholars Office, James Dorsett explained that the rise was led by a growing Chinese middle class and the growing ability of families in China to afford to send students to the U.S. Additionally, many Chinese families now believe that their children can benefit from good education and a strongproficiency in English by studying in the U.S.

According to Russell Ganim, director of UI’s Division of World Languages, although Chinese universities have become more competitive recently, the tough entry requirements in China pushed more students to opt for Western institutions.

"While there’s a huge selection of universities in China, there are so many students at college age who cannot get into Chinese universities that they have to seek opportunities in the U.S., Canadathe UK and elsewhere,” Ganim added. “You could call it education outsourcing in reverse.”

Easier visas for students from China can also make studying in the U.S. more attractive. Patricia Parker, associate director of admissions at ISU, stated that the visa application standard used to be very high in the past few years. It is easier now for Chinese to get a U.S. visa and universities are working hard to welcome more Chinese students in Iowa, Ms. Parker added.

If you are interested in Visas to the USA, contact Migration Expert for information and advice on which visa is best suited to you. You can also try our visa eligibility assessment to see if you are eligible to apply for a visa to the United States of America.

Too often, it can feel like the reality of this country’s broken immigration system is something we face alone. It’s a system meant to isolate us, so that we do not join together to share our pain and organize to fight back.Individual stories on losing loved ones to deportation are incredibly difficult to read, but we must share and communicate them as loud and as far as we can — until our demand for humane, comprehensive immigration reform is met with national legislation. Our sincerest thanks to Veronica G. for courageously sharing her family’s story with all of us.

Veronica GMy family and I are still living the results of the broken immigration system and its events from 2006. My uncle was detained and deported as product of the meatpacking plant raid that took place in Marshalltown, IA. This was a very difficult time for our family, as we have always been close. My uncle’s absence left a strong impact on my cousin, who was then 2, who stopped talking and needed to regularly attend therapy.

Within a year of my uncle’s departure, immigration proceedings continued with my aunt. She was also eventually deported — regardless of having two citizen children, and having lived and worked in this country for over 15 years.

I found this old letter, from when my aunt was in a detention center prior to her removal proceedings. I think this is very illustrative of the situation at that moment:

My very dear sister, the purpose of this letter is to greet you, with hopes that you are well, as those are my best wishes. I am well, thank God. The days pass by and I feel calmer, here we pray the rosary every day. And I always pray a lot and I know that God is giving me lots of strength to go through this situation, which isn’t by any means easy. In the beginning I would cry a lot. The thought of going to Mexico terrorized me, but now God has cleared things up in my mind. And the most important thing is to be with my children. If God wants me to go then that is how it will be. God never abandons us and I know things will get better. I know that in the beginning it’s going to be difficult but not impossible, I’m going to fight so that my children are well. They will become accustomed to the lifestyle [in Mexico]. I only ask of God that they don’t suffer and that they don’t miss this life too much.

I don’t want you guys to worry — you did all that you could. And this is how God wanted things to happen. Here I send you these addresses of some women that I met and I told them I’d write them. I send you these so that you can keep them for me, in case I were to lose my little notebook, that I have here. Well, please take care, later on with calm we can come upon an agreement on how you can send me my children. I miss them so much. I know that you’re going to visit Alex. I wish that everything does well with her, that her baby is born well. Send her my greetings and pass on my wishes that everything goes well. Take lots of care and God bless and God willing we see each other soon.

Your sister that loves you very much.
Elizabeth

Veronica and familyMy cousins were ages 2 and 4 at the beginning of these events, and were 4 and 6 by the time their mother was deported. They moved in with my family, where we cared for them, until finally deciding that they needed to be with their parents. They were reunited with their parents in Mexico in 2010.

My cousin is now 9, and notices the geographical, educational, and social differences. He feels alienated as he had never even visited the country. He dislikes his school and his environment. He regularly asks me why he has to be there, and if he could come back. I visited them over my winter break, and when I was talking to my cousin about the differences he noted. He said “Here, there are not a lot of toys, it’s poor here and there it’s rich, even if you’re poor. There’s no jobs, we don’t have a car, and everything is far… just that.” When I asked him if he would like to return one day he said, “I want my mom to go over there…but she can’t…”

Today, February 6th, is his birthday. His second birthday in Mexico and he is now 10. As citizens of the United States, it is truly a shame that both of these children are being denied their rights and benefits to have brighter future as a result of our outdated and broken immigration laws.

 

The cost of teaching non-English-speaking students is rising dramatically in some Iowa schools, with local property taxpayers paying a bigger share of the expense, state data show.

State funding for students who are learning English has increased more than 40 percent — or $4.9 million — in the past five years, while the number of those students has grown almost 20 percent. Despite that, an increasing number of schools spent more state money than they received, prompting them to seek additional funds from property taxpayers.

Eighty-two districts last year needed extra money, up from the 68 that did so five years ago. And the amount they collected nearly doubled during that time. Districts collected $11.8 million last fiscal year in property taxes for their English Language Learner programs, compared to the $6.1 million they received five years ago.

“We hope kids are making gains in those programs,” said Jeff Berger, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. “I’m sure there are situations where they aren’t. That’s where the request for additional dollars comes in.”

How schools spend that money has gone relatively unexamined in recent years, resulting in a disparity in how much districts spend and the services they provide, a Des Moines Register analysis based on state data showed.

Statewide, reading scores among ELL fourth- and eighth-graders remained relatively unchanged during the past five years, as did the achievement gap between the students and their non-ELL counterparts, state data show.

According to the analysis:

The state provided school districts $1,294 per ELL student in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Districts on average, though, spent $1,701 per student, or nearly $40 million total. That’s 31 percent more than five years ago.

Per pupil spending varied greatly among districts. Dike-New Hartford spent $20,294 per student to deliver services to two students, the highest in the state. Maquoketa Valley spent $46 per student, the lowest in Iowa, to educate its three students.

Des Moines, which serves nearly a quarter of the state’s ELL population, spent $1,308 per student, or $6.3 million last year. That compares to the nearly $3,000 per student Davenport spent.

Spending more money hasn’t resulted in academic gains in some cases. For example, while Davenport spent more money per student than Des Moines, the percentage of Davenport ELL fourth-graders able to read at grade level fell from 71.43 percent in 2007 to 61.7 percent in 2011. Reading proficiency among Des Moines’ ELL fourth-graders increased from 44.85 to 50.86 percent.

Districts with some of the state’s largest non-English speaking populations — Marshalltown, Denison and Storm Lake — kept their expenses within state funding limits and didn’t ask taxpayers for additional help.

Some school leaders say they are forced to more heavily rely on local property taxpayers for additional money because it costs more to educate the increasingly diverse population of non-English-speaking students they serve. And state funding is lacking, they said.

The state not only has more ELL students, but the number of languages they speak has grown. Some have never attended school and aren’t literate in their native language. Others speak dialects that don’t translate into writing. Many have had interruptions in their learning. The older they are when they come to Iowa’s schools, the less likely they are to succeed, educators say.

Iowa expects schools to bring ELL students up to grade level and make them proficient in English within four years and funds them for only that amount of time. Educators say that’s an unrealistic goal for many of the students they serve. Instead, they would like to see state funding doled out based on the needs of the students, an idea that has merit, said Jason Glass, Iowa Department of Education director.

“It’s a change I would be interested in discussing,” Glass said. “The tough question that comes with it, though, is if we do this in a cost-neutral way, who are the winners and who are the losers?”

The disparity in per-pupil spending among districts has led to a clamp-down from the state committee that authorizes them to collect additional money through property taxes. For the first time, the School Budget Review Committee is requiring districts to document program expenses, so it can better understand why per-pupil spending varies so widely and why costs are going up. From that, it can determine if the state needs to change how it funds the program.

In the past, the committee has given a blanket approval to districts’ requests to increase property taxes to recoup program costs. It has done so without looking at how districts spent the money.

“I don’t have an issue with presenting to the (committee),” said Doug Stilwell, Urbandale superintendent. “We want to be open with what we do with taxpayer money. It will help them understand the additional challenges we face.”

“It’s an issue that has many fingers pointed in many directions,” Stilwell added. “We have to be able to look those kids in the face and say it’s our legal and moral obligation to educate you.”

Urbandale hasn’t seen an influx in non-English-speaking students, but the population itself has changed, Stilwell said. The district had the third-largest spending increase in the state. It spent more than $1 million last year, up nearly $523,000 from five years ago, according to state figures.

Urbandale now serves students who speak 42 different languages. Many come from Africa where they speak a dialect for which there is no written language. Its largest ELL population is Bosnian.

“It can take me a couple of hours to sit with a family and register their child,” said Brenda Auxier-Mailey, Urbandale’s director of student services. “I don’t speak their language and they don’t speak mine. I do a lot of acting things out and drawing pictures.”

Urbandale is like many districts across the state, educators say. The state is increasingly seeing students with different native languages who come from a variety of backgrounds.

Des Moines, which serves students who speak nearly 100 different languages, has an intensive English program for students who come to the district with no educational background. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade usually spend five to 18 weeks in the intensive program, while those in middle and high school can attend for one to two years, said Vinh Nguyen, Des Moines ELL director.

Once students exit the program, they are mainstreamed into the regular classroom, where they are either given supports or are pulled out for additional instruction. Nguyen broke the students into three groups: refugees, immigrant and migrant families, and students who were born in Iowa but grew up in a household that spoke another language.

The younger they are when they enroll, the better their chance of success, Nguyen said. If a student comes to the district when he is in kindergarten, he usually exits the program within four to five years. Those in middle school only have a 50 percent chance of graduating from the program.

“A 15-year-old that comes to us, the chance for them to exit is very small,” he said. “If you are 15 years old, you have to catch up with 10 years of education and then you have to grow at least three years. Some of our students are struggling, but others are doing quite well.”

Districts with some of the largest populations of non-English-speaking students have been able to contain costs and not seek additional resources from taxpayers. For example, Marshalltown has the third-largest ELL enrollment, with 1,568 students who speak 30 different languages. It had the seventh-largest gain in ELL students during the past five years, state data show.

The district, however, did not top the state in spending increases and hasn’t asked to increase property taxes, according to state figures.

“We have high poverty levels in our community,” said Marvin Wade, Marshalltown superintendent. “We aren’t comfortable going to the taxpayers saying we are going to put the burden on you to provide additional services.”

Instead, the district finds creative ways to use multiple funding sources, he said. It has strengthened its core curriculum, trained teachers to better meet the needs of the ELL students in their classrooms and increasingly used achievement data to target instruction toward students’ greatest needs, he said.

He agrees that the state’s expectation to graduate students from ELL programs within four years is unrealistic. But he’s leery of increasing funding.

“Where are those funds going to come from is my question,” Wade said. “There is a finite amount of money out there. If they are going to put it in one place, they have to take it from another.”

Deb Olson, Clinton school superintendent, said ELL should be a priority. Her district served 30 students last year at a cost of $5,168 per student. Of the $155,048 the district spent, $118,525 came from local property taxes.

“This is one of the things we need to step up and take notice of,” Olson said. “The state will only grow in diversity. We need to step up so these kids are ready for life after high school and contribute to our economy. What are we going to do if we don’t?”

What They Experience
Building students’ vocabulary is a crucial part of teaching, says Crestview kindergarten teacher Robin Nelson. During her recent presentation to the WDMCS School Board she presented a paragraph to show how a new English learner can read a paragraph and actually answer questions, but not know what they have just read.

Click below to see the paragraph and worksheet “The Montillation of Traxoline”

"Our students can learn to decode words pretty easily, but they need to understand the content and meaning of words," she said. "Children learn language through connecting new words to what they already know and to building their background knowledge about a wealth of topics." (Source: West Des Moines Community Schools)

By Alison Gowans February 6, 2012

Iowa’s African immigrant population is growing, and Black Hawk County is one of the centers of that growth.

That was the message presented by Professor of Health Education Michele Devin at the University of Northern Iowa’s CROW Forum: “Darfur to Denison: Iowa’s Newest Refugees from Africa and Implications for Woman’s Health Professionals.”

“This is sort of the new face of Iowa,” she said. “We’re seeing many, many new languages and tribes and ethnicities that we’ve not seen in a state like Iowa up to now.”

Devin, who is also the director of the Iowa Center for Health Disparities, said the growth of African refugees in Iowa has accelerated greatly in the last two to three years. The growth is largely due to places that used to hire large numbers of illegal immigrants, such as meat packing plants, turning to legal refugee populations after federal crackdowns on illegal immigration.

In Black Hawk County, the largest new immigrant population is Burmese. But there are also a growing number of Africans, particularly from Liberia. There are 150-200 Liberians in the county, mostly in Waterloo, Devin said.

Other centers of African immigration across the state are Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Storm Lake and Marshalltown.

Devin said Des Moines has the second biggest population of Sudanese immigrants in the country, with around 8,000 people. In Cedar Rapids, she said, there are entire apartment buildings dominated by refugees from Burundi and the Congo.

Challenges for health professionals serving refugee populations include miscommunication and misunderstanding due to cross-cultural barriers, lower literacy rates and language barriers. There are also access issues such as financial and transportation barriers.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an issue as well, as is cultural bereavement - grieving for the loss of the culture that was left behind.

"It’s not easy to be a refugee. Getting used to life in Iowa can be very, very difficult," she said. "So we do see things like depression, anxiety, stress."

Feb. 03, 2012


MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA — March 2009. That was the last time Felix Hernandez saw his wife, Cynthia, in the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked her up during a raid at her workplace, the former Swift & Company, a meat-processing plant in Marshalltown, for working without documentation. She was deported to Mexico and has been there since.

Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Felix came to the United States in 1986. He now has permanent U.S. residency and lives in Marshalltown with their four children, ages 16, 14, 8 and 6.

Felix Hernandez sits at home Oct. 14 with a photo of him, Cynthia and their second-oldest child, Suje Belen Hernandez, in the background. (Photos by Eloísa Pérez-Lozano)

As soon as Cynthia was detained, Felix began searching for a way to keep her in the United States, and after she was deported, a way to bring her back legally. The many immigration lawyers he consulted said that the quickest way would still take 10 to 12 years or longer.

After Cynthia’s deportation, Felix’s immediate challenge was caring for his children as a single parent while working full time for a construction company near Ames.

According to Felix, taking on these various roles alone can be quite difficult at times. “That’s when you realize how important it is for the wife and husband to be together so in these cases you can help each other out,” he explained.

But Cynthia’s deportation presented Felix with another unique challenge. At the time she was deported, Felix was just months away from being ordained a permanent deacon for the Dubuque archdiocese.

Felix Hernandez with his children May 16, 2009, at the end of the last session of deacon training before his ordination.Felix Hernandez with his children May 16, 2009, at the end of the last session of deacon training before his ordination.Felix and Cynthia had started the journey to his ordination together years before. They had studied and participated in the training together. His wife’s support was crucial, an indispensable part of the process. Her deportation raised questions about whether Felix could complete the formation process.

Fortunately, according to Felix, God was with him. “God wanted me to be ordained without her being there,” he said. In the end, it was Archbishop Jerome Hanus who decided that Felix would be ordained in July 2009. Cynthia received a special award in recognition of her steadfastness during the diaconate training.

This article is from NCR’s February 3-16, 2012 issue with special focus on Deacons.

Special section content is usually only available to subscribers. To receive a complimentary copy of NCR’s Deacons issue, call 1-800-333-7373 or request a sample here.

Ordination should be a joyous occasion, but Felix remembers having mixed feelings. “It was one of the most unforgettable and beautiful moments of my life. One part of me was happy, but another part of me needed my wife to be there. I felt incomplete.”

Felix spoke with Cynthia by phone before and after the ceremony. “She gave me words of encouragement … [telling me] that God was with me, and that he had always been with us.”

Though comforted by her words, she was still not by his side. It was hard for Felix to deal with her absence. It was even harder, however, to be surrounded by his fellow classmates who could share their happiness with their wives. “On that occasion, I was sad because everyone was with their spouses, except me,” he said.

Felix now serves as deacon at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marshalltown. Once a month, he reads the Gospel during the Spanish Masses and preaches the homily. He also serves at other parishes in the archdiocese when needed.

Felix thinks he has found a way to help the family be reunited faster. They have filed for Cynthia to get a religious visa. That application is still pending.

Felix has many roles to play — husband, father, provider and deacon — and keeping a balance is a challenge. “One of the psalms clearly states that there is time for everything,” he said. “So if God grants us time, we need to know how to distribute it.”

He calls Cynthia every two or three days and manages to visit her in Mexico a few times a year. Despite the separation, Felix believes God has made his family stronger and more united. “We have stayed together, my kids and my wife,” he said. “Though she is not here, we keep in touch.”

Felix stresses to his children that even though their mother is not with them, God is with their family and they have to stay together. “I have always told them that by being together, we will succeed,” he said. “Even if it’s the biggest problem in the world, we will succeed.”

[Eloísa Pérez-Lozano is a recent graduate of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. The story of Deacon Hernandez and his wife form part of her master’s creative component project, which looked at the human side of immigration in the lives of three families in Marshalltown, Iowa.]