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The Elbert Files: Is Steve King support fading?


An Esquire magazine article — https://bit.ly/2DHo089 — that appeared online Sept. 30 suggests that Republican Congressman Steve King’s immigrant-bashing may be wearing thin among Iowa constituents whose livelihoods depend on undocumented labor.

The subject of the article by Ryan Lizza is U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and known for his highly publicized and sometimes fumbling defenses of President Donald Trump.

The connection between King and Nunes isn’t as much political as it is geographic, according to Lizza.

In 2006, Nunes’ father and brother quietly moved the family dairy, which had figured prominently in Nunes’ political campaigns, from California to northwest Iowa deep in the heart of Steve King country. According to Lizza, most of Nunes’ constituents continue to believe his family’s dairy is located in California.

The lack of publicity about the move is understandable, because relocating to Iowa could be an issue with voters in California, although it’s doubtful that voters in Iowa give a hoot.

What’s more interesting to Iowans, or at least to this Iowan, is Lizza’s descriptions of the Nuneses’ Iowa neighbors as being increasingly concerned that King’s anti-immigration rhetoric will cause them economic harm.

That’s because many dairy farms in Iowa — as we learned from the Mollie Tibbetts murder — depend on immigrant labor, much of which is undocumented.

A 2014 study found at least 40,000 undocumented immigrants working in Iowa, many in the agriculture and meat industries, which are prevalent in King’s northwest Iowa district.

“In every conversation I had with dairy farmers and industry insiders in northwest Iowa,” Lizza wrote, “it was taken as a fact that the local dairies are wholly dependent on undocumented labor.”

“Eighty percent of the Latino population out here in northwest Iowa is undocumented,” one local told Lizza.

“It would be great if we had enough unemployed Americans in northwest Iowa to milk the cows,” the man continued. “But there’s just not. We have a very tight labor pool around here.”

“All the dairies require their workers to provide evidence of their legal status and pay the required state and federal taxes,” a farmer told Lizza. “But it’s an open secret that the system is built on easily obtained fraudulent documents.”

At this point, it’s worth noting that, according to Lizza, Congressman Nunes was a longtime supporter of “moderate immigration reform … including amnesty for many undocumented people living and working in the U.S.”

But that changed after Trump was elected. Today, a Nunes-created website “regularly highlights articles attacking Democrats for being insufficiently supporting of ICE’s raids and deportations,” Lizza wrote.

Militant attacks by King, Trump and Nunes on undocumented immigrants concern locals in the Sibley area where the Nunes’ dairy is located.

The absurdity of supporting people like King and Trump whose immigration policies would destroy their local economy has caused some “to rethink their political priorities,” Lizza wrote.

“Everyone’s got this feeling that in agriculture, we, the employers, are going to be criminalized,” a dairyman told Lizza.

The farmer added that he has talked face-to-face with King and concluded: “He does not care. He believes that if you have one undocumented worker on your place, you should probably go to prison.”

“Sibley is emblematic of a lot of small towns in Iowa that are dependent on an agricultural economy,” Lizza wrote. “They know they cannot survive without immigrants, and they have worked hard to integrate the foreign-born population, despite the legal limbo faced by employers and employees alike.”

When Lizza asked Sibley Mayor Jerry Johnson what would happen if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service turned its attention to Sibley, “the mayor shuddered” at what the writer described as “a massive political hypocrisy.”

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