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Political Mercury

‘If you aren’t already related to a Latino…’


Bettendorf attorney Maria Bribriesco, a Democrat, is seeking an eastern Iowa State Senate seat.

Bettendorf attorney Maria Bribriesco, a Democrat, is seeking an eastern Iowa State Senate seat.

One in six Americans is Latino. The ethnic group is the fastest-growing in the nation. More than half of all babies born in the United States are minorities — and the average age of a Latino is 27.6.

According to 2012 U.S. Census figures, Latinos are now the largest minority population in Polk County — at 7.9 percent (African Americans make up 6.4 percent).

All of this (only a spoon-sized scoop into the data mine on the growing presence and influence of Latinos) provided statistical girding for a political haymaker Friday night from Joe Enriquez Henry, the Iowa state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“If you aren’t already related to a Latino, you soon will be,” Henry said to a crowd of more than 300 people at the Des Moines Marriott during LULAC’s Iowa Latino Heritage Banquet.

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LULAC’s event featured an awards presentation to outstanding Iowa Latinos. (In a moving tribute, Lt. Joe Gonzalez, a 42-year veteran of the Des Moines Police Department, earned the Latino Hero Award.) The organization, one of the more politically muscular for Latinos, deployed a battery of sympathetic politicians to press the case for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for many of the people living here without proper papers.

“Yeah, they want a better life for themselves — is there something wrong with that?” said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a news conference before the banquet.

In June, the Senate passed sweeping immigration reform on a vote of 68 to 32 — with 14 Republicans joining the majority.

Now the matter is before the House where there are encouraging signs, reform advocates say.

Two California congressmen — Jeff Denham and David Valadao — have joined House Democrats in supporting reform that would bundle a path to citizenship protocol for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States with billions of dollars in additional border patrol spending.

“One of the messages here for the House is: ‘Let the people vote,’ ” Harkin said.

He added, “We’re trying to get the House to vote on it before we go home for Christmas.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, speaks at a League of United Latin American Citizens news conference in Des Moines.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, speaks at a League of United Latin American Citizens news conference in Des Moines.

Harkin, who will retire in 2014 after 40 years in Congress, said he knows and understands Iowans as well as anyone. There’s a basic sense of fairness at play here in bringing people who are “effectively Americans” out of the shadows with practical, accountable reforms that enable immigrants to contribute to the tax base and culture of the nation, Harkin said.

The Immigration Policy Center reports that Iowa is losing $18 million a year in state and local taxes by not providing a path to citizenship. What’s more, between 2006 and 2010, more than 4,800 immigrants started new businesses in Iowa.

“The overwhelming (number of) people of Iowa reject the attitude and views of the congressman from Northwest Iowa — I just know they do,” Harkin said of U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican and national leader in the opposition to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

State Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines, a candidate for governor, said he is a strong supporter of immigration reform.

“If I am elected governor, we won’t just be signing proclamations,” he said. “We’ll be signing legislation.”

In an interview, Maria Bribriesco of Bettendorf, an attorney and Democratic candidate for the State Senate, riffed on some of the recent talk of secession in Texas.

“I’m an immigrant, too,” she said. “In 1980 I emigrated from the great Republic of Texas, coming to Iowa seeking a better life.” CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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